education Blog

RISE Community School is Reaching New Heights…and the Kids Win!

On a June morning, RISE Community School students whooped with pride having just beaten their teachers in a spirited game of dodgeball. Cheers, high fives, and hugs abounded on the playground.

RISE Hi FiveThis dodgeball victory wasn’t the only way these kids won big this year. The scholars in transitional kindergarten, kindergarten, and first grade classrooms are also part of a palpable transformation at this East Oakland elementary school.

The Rainin Foundation has supported this transformation by supporting RISE Community School teachers with an Early Common Core Teacher Leader that will help them build the decoding, language, academic vocabulary, and comprehension skills of transitional kindergarten to first grade students. Our shared goal is to ensure that the children become joyful learners, successful readers, and critical thinkers as they grow.

Margaret Goldberg, Early Common Core Teacher Leader, says, “For many years children came to our school with vast unmet needs. The narrative was that the children came in low on academic skills and left our school low on academic skills. But when we look at the data, it was worse than that. They came in behind and left even further behind.” In fact, standardized test scores and assessments reveal that fewer than 10% of children were meeting grade level benchmarks.”

RISE Community School’s Team of Teachers

Ms. Pollak high fives a student after spending time reading with her while other students pair up to read together.

Ms. Goldberg and Principal Samantha Keller are changing that narrative. Ms. Keller says, “Now, the teachers are a true team. They have worked together to teach with new tools and curricula. They also frequently assess children’s progress, learn and collaborate together, and even share students who need specialized support.”

Furthermore, their success lifts up all the children at all grade levels. Ms. DeMara, a kindergarten teacher says, “When our RISE scholars enter second and third grade and are performing at grade level, our teachers are able to lead the kids in more focused work and raise the expectations of the class’ performance. Consequently, all of the students do better.”


of transitional kindergarten students at RISE Community School were on target for later reading success in 2016.

The results of these efforts are monumental. In 2015, just 3% of kindergarten students were on target for later reading success. Last spring in 2016, after the RISE team had focused on transitional kindergarten and kindergarten children, the results were drastically different: 100% of transitional kindergarten students were on target for later reading success, and 73% of kindergarten students were at or above benchmark.

These successes persist as the children move to higher grades. As a result, this spring, the school saw a huge boost in the number of first graders who are meeting benchmarks.

RISE Community School’s Secret to Growth

The secret to growth is clear to Ms. Van Rosumm, a kindergarten teacher. “We just weren’t giving kids what they needed before. We needed a systematic focus to teach children their letter sounds and blending while also teaching comprehension through vocabulary, conversation, and reading aloud.”

Ms. DeMara adds, “Before RISE Community School, I watched as my kids struggled even as I did everything I knew to do. And my guilt got bigger every year as I watched them go through the grades with holes in their education. In contrast, I now have the tools to make sure they have a strong start. I am confident that these are children who have become great thinkers with strong skills.”

“I am confident that these are children who have become great thinkers with strong skills.”– Ms. DeMara, Kindergarten Teacher, RISE Community School

A mid-year writing sample from one of Ms. Ruiz’ students

Ms. Ruiz, a first grade teacher, agrees, “Look at this!” she exclaims when showing end of year writing. “My kids were not able to do this in prior years. They can do so much now! Never before have we understood so much about what our children need.”

“Next year’s focus on building oral language with the solid foundation in decoding skills will support children to read and think about increasingly complex texts throughout the grades.”– Samantha Keller, Principal, RISE Community School

While the focus is always the kids, it’s not just the kids who are winning. Ms. Kott’s transitional kindergarten class is active in art and language activities. She beams when they smile with pride in their accomplishments. She says, “Our kids are doing great, but it’s not just the children. We’re all growing and learning too. They may have beat us in dodgeball this morning, but we are all winning with the growth at RISE.”

Susan True

Susan True

Director, Education Strategy & Ventures

Susan’s work focuses on directing strategic initiatives and funding to increase the number of Oakland children who are ready for kindergarten and reading at grade level by the end of third grade.  Read more.

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