Education column: James Bickley principal focuses on school’s strengths

Taking the opportunity the other day to visit with one of our elementary principals, I learned about some of the things that would be happening during this upcoming year at their school.

Carlos Carrillo, principal at James Bickley Elementary, focusing on strengths, shared, “we have great teachers at James Bickley, who work very well together as a team. Their stability is very important, and we have little or no turnover. We’ve only lost one teacher in the last few years, and that was retirement.” Carrillo continued, “In spite of the standardized test results, we had a 6.5 percent growth in reading; more students made ‘proficiency,’ and more students made ‘advanced,’ and we’re very happy about that.” He attributed improvement in reading to the reading series used throughout the district, “Imagine It” — especially with the great writing workshop that’s built in, which Carrillo believes supports student reading skills.

The “Imagine It Reading Series” ( is a thorough, comprehensive reading program that addresses the five key areas of reading instruction: Phonemic awareness; systematic, explicit phonics; fluency; vocabulary; and comprehension. The program was initiated several years ago at a few schools and subsequently rolled out to the others. Although in the first year “Imagine It” is demanding and time-consuming to teach, following years become smoother, and students benefit from the inclusion of cross-curricular content from other subject areas — specifically, science and social studies — into the reading and writing components.

Carrillo continued: “Last year, we used the slogan, ‘taking care of business,’ and we’ll continue with that this year and add a focus on developing respect. Teachers have to have a good relationship with students to build respect, both ways. When you earn students’ respect, you can capture their hearts to get to their brain!” He maintains that this year will be even better, continuing policies from last year. “Tardiness, truancy and discipline issues have been reduced by letting kids who arrive early into the computer lab to do math or reading sessions, rather than just ‘hanging out’ on the playground. The kids really like coming in to work in the lab, and it helps them to focus and be ready to start the school day.”

Carrillo is a strong believer in students taking ownership of their learning; passing students in the hall, he’ll ask students what their last SM (SuccessMaker) or YPP (Yearly Progress Pro) scores were and doesn’t accept, “I dunno…” as a response. These are computer programs that instruct and assess skills at the students’ level, which are important in determining academic growth. Carrillo wants students to understand that their learning is highly valued and important. “We have 100 percent participation in parent conferences. Our teachers are proactive in contacting parents before they come to school to learn about their new students.”

James Bickley will continue their motivational programs from last year (for example, the Sunshine Club and the High Achiever luncheon for students with their parents) and expand to include a new Parent Center (headed up with a parent coordinator) to get all parents involved in their child’s learning.

Cindy Kleyn-Kennedy is the instructional technology coordinator for the Clovis Municipal Schools and can be reached at: