BENTON CITY -- Wayne Barrett says when he became principal of Kiona-Benton City High School, the 450-student school was "adult-centered."
Unfortunately, that meant many students weren't meeting state standards and few were continuing their education after high school.
Barrett said he is happy to announce that has changed, and the school now is "kid-centered."
"We know our kids now," he said. "We know their strengths. We know their weaknesses."
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The high school was awarded two Washington Achievement Awards -- for overall excellence and excellence in language arts -- by the Washington School Board Association and Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction.
With staff altering their curriculum to work on needed areas, along with some federal grant money, the school has improved its test scores, and more students are looking to college as a next step.
"I never thought I'd be capable of signing up for college and doing applications," said senior Leo Alvarez, who has scholarships and plans to attend Perry Tech in Yakima after graduation.
Barrett said the district's school board pushed hard for reforms after years of students underachieving compared to state averages.
Efforts were made to focus on what students needed. The school day was changed from four periods in a day to six periods. An intervention counselor worked with students, especially freshman, who were lagging in their classes. A reading intervention program was started to help struggling students.
The school's math program was altered, with teachers emphasizing material tested by the state and more flexibility built into how long students could take and pass required algebra courses. Funding from the federal GEAR UP program, or Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs, helped provide tutors in math classrooms.
"I'm excited we have it," said geometry teacher Holli Prior of the math tutoring program. She was one of two teachers in the state to have all her students pass the state's geometry standards last school year.
Tanya Tyrrell and other teachers in the school's language arts department have revamped English classes to incorporate writing and reading assignments.
"It's that mindset that it all goes together," she said.
Meanwhile, Becky Wilson, the school's GEAR UP coordinator, has seen a dramatic increase in the number of students graduating and pursuing higher education.
"They understand there are options outside a high school degree," she said.
Barrett said winning awards isn't the emphasis at Kiona-Benton City but the recent honors do illustrate how progress has been made.
"Performance has to count for kids," he said.
-- Ty Beaver: 582-1402; firstname.lastname@example.org
Washington Achievement Award winners
Here's a breakdown of other schools and education programs in the Mid-Columbia who were recently recognized by state education officials.
-- Southridge High School (Kennewick), improvement
-- Mid-Columbia Parent Partnership (Kennewick), improvement
-- Southgate Elementary School (Kennewick), closing achievement gaps
-- Connell High School (North Franklin), extended graduation rate
-- River View High School (Finley), extended graduation rate
-- Washtucna Elementary and High School (Washtucna), overall excellence and science
-- Columbia High School (Columbia-Walla Walla), extended graduation rate
-- Walla Walla High School (Walla Walla), extended graduation rate
-- Garrison Middle School (Walla Walla), improvement
-- Waitsburg High School (Waitsburg), extended graduation rate
-- Prescott Junior Senior High School (Prescott), extended graduation rate
-- Touchet Elementary and High School (Touchet), extended graduation rate
-- Pioneer Elementary School (Sunnyside), overall excellence
-- Washington Elementary School (Sunnyside), overall excellence and mathematics
-- Outlook Elementary School (Sunnyside), overall excellence and improvement
-- Sage Point Elementary School (Moses Lake), closing achievement gaps