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T'iis Nazbas Community School third-graders, from left, Alyssa Marshall, 9, Shantel Benally, 8, Mia Benally, 8, and Kianna Tso, 9, admire each other's shirts during Friday's celebration assembly. T-shirts were distributed to students who helped the school meet Adequate Yearly Progress last year.
TEEC NOS POS, Ariz. — A banner hanging on the gymnasium wall at T'iis Nazbas Community School encourages students to "Never, never quit."

The 170 students who attend the small Bureau of Indian Education school gathered near that banner Friday to celebrate a victory that exceeded all expectations.

The school, which is under restructuring status as mandated by the federal No Child Left Behind Act, met Adequate Yearly Progress last spring for the first time in six years.

But it didn't stop there. Classes doubled, tripled and even quadrupled the percent of students meeting AYP since last year. At the high point was Evelyn John's third-grade class, which jumped in math proficiency from 18 percent in 2007 to 100 percent last spring.

"This just shows that with the No Child Left Behind Act, even in schools on the Navajo Nation, it can be done," Principal Leo Johnson said. "One hundred percent efficiency is rare anywhere."

The numbers especially are encouraging given the Navajo Nation's poor track record of meeting AYP. Only six of the 172 schools on the reservation met AYP in 2007, said Tribal Council delegate Leonard Anthony, who sits on the council's education committee.

Proficiency in reading and math skyrocketed across the board at T'iis Nazbas Community School, with overall scores nearly doubling in both subjects and inching into the 90s in several grades.

The achievement came on the heels of a difficult administrative decision, said Joel Longie, education line officer for the Northern Navajo agency.


A year ago, the school was one of the lowest performing schools in the Bureau of Indian Education, he said.

The school, which serves students in pre-kindergarten through the eighth grade, failed to meet AYP for the fifth year in a row, forcing it to consider a handful of options, including relinquishing control of the school to the state or replacing the existing staff.

"We made the scores and AYP an issue," Longie said. "We talked to our teachers about how they were providing quality in education."

The result was a painful 90 percent job cut, followed by careful hiring of a team of new teachers with proven results in meeting AYP. The school also pursued grants and professional development courses.

"We're celebrating now because we were successful," Longie said. "We had to make some tough choices, but if teachers are not performing, we have to get some that do perform."

The school also hired a new principal. Johnson took over in September, but continued with the mission of former principal Michael Aaron.

Aaron pushed for higher achievements, more accountability and better use of classroom hours, coining a saying still quoted by school administrators.

"Without accountability, schools would possibly still be allowing teaching staff to be showing movies and handing out worksheets all day long," Aaron once said.

Johnson also called for high achievements next year, encouraging students Friday to keep the momentum.

For many of the students, the Arizona's Instrument to Measure Standards (AIMS) test is just the long exam they take every spring. For teachers and administrators, the test means opportunities to earn recognition, funding and additional resources for the school.

"There was a big turnaround in one year," Johnson told students. "We can do this."

Alysa Landry: