“A Little School Where Big Things Happen” – Principal Elizabeth Ballard
By Simone Henriques, Director-At-Large
Do you know who Charles Wakefield Cadman was? Elizabeth Ballard and her staff want to make sure you do and that the community knows that Cadman was destined to be a fine arts school because of its namesake.
Ballard became Principal of Cadman Elementary School in April of 2011. After meeting with each staff member, it was clear to Ballard that Cadman needed to be a fine arts school, so the focus of the school was changed and the arts were incorporated. She was surprised to learn that the students did not know who Mr. Cadman was, so Brian McDonald, a staff member did a presentation to the student body on this great man and his music.
Cadman (1888-1946) was an American composer and his music was highly influenced by American Indian music. His most well-known songs are “From the Land of the Sky-Blue Water” (which was actually featured in a Hamms beer commercial) and “At Dawning.”
So one of the first changes she made was to make students learn about the famous composer and his musical legacy and other great composers. She knows that there is a direct and dramatic correlation between musicality and learning processes.
But ask Ballard what the school’s proudest accomplishment is and she will tell you about the school’s recent and rapid improvement in academic achievement.
Before Ballard arrived, this small school in the Bay Ho neighborhood was targeted for closure due to academic scores dropping and low enrollment. In 2011, the Academic Performance Index (API) was 726. This year, Cadman’s API went up 92 points, with a new API of 818.
“Cadman made the highest gains in API of any school in San Diego Unified School District!” quoted from a certificate from Area Supt. Marian Phelps that is hanging in Principal Ballard’s office.
Ballard was right when she said, “Cadman is a little school where big things happen and one by one neighborhood children are returning to our school.” Ballard regularly praises her staff on their love for children and their willingness to take on new challenges and encourage excellence.
And the big things happening at Cadman Elementary are definitely something to talk about. Not only did the API go up, but enrollment has also increased: The school currently has 190 students, including the pre-school, about 54 more than last year. Consequently, more teachers were hired during this school year.
Ballard is especially proud of the Cadman’s Distinguished School status and now that it is the only fine arts focused elementary school in Clairemont. California’s Distinguished School program recognizes the state’s “most exemplary and inspiring public schools.” Schools selected for the award demonstrate significant improvements in academic achievement.
Cadman is quickly becoming known for the “extra” it is able to offer students and parents beyond the traditional educational curriculum. It will also be offering a transitional Kindergarten class next year. Due to the wide range of Partners this school has developed within the community, Cadman has extra money to offer a snow day for academic improvement, field trips, playground improvements and other programs that would be impossible on the current school budget.
For example, Ballard has partnered with a private provider to offer a preschool on campus that has been wildly popular: The preschool currently has 26 children and a waiting list. Creating this pre-school was a direct response to meeting with parents and listening to their needs.
Cadman is also a “Prime Time” site that is able to offer free before and after-school care for students, which is a huge benefit for many parents in this day and age.
Further, when the kids have had enough of reading, writing and arithmetic, they can go outside and tend to the gardens that each classroom grows. The gardens are funded by private fundraising efforts and promote good health for the students.
But no matter what the students are focused on, Ballard knows they are benefitting from Cadman’s small-school environment, where everyone knows everyone and teachers can give more focused attention on the students, and the community supports the school and the staff members. The focus is on “whole child” development at the most personal level and the students are called “Scholars”.
The parents are also a wonderful factor behind the success at Cadman. One would be hard pressed to find parents that are more supportive than those from this neighborhood. They not only are actively involved with every aspect of the children’s education, they are wonderful supporters of the vision that is part of the Cadman Elementary philosophy, that every child has a tremendous capacity to learn and expand their minds.