Student Grades Are Going Up, Thanks To Wellington’s Keely Spinelli Education Grant

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Wellington The Magazine – June 2016                                                          Student Grades Are Going Up, Thanks To Wellington’s Keely Spinelli  Education Grant

Story by Jason Stromberg  •  Photos by Julie Unger

At Binks Forest Elementary School, children are receiving additional instructional time to assist in closing achievement gaps in reading and math. The students’ self-esteem and academic motivation have increased.

In reading, 100 percent of the students in the lowest 25 percentile of test scores improved. In math, 95 percent of the students in that lowest percentile improved their scores.

Somewhere up above, Keely Spinelli, the former principal at Binks Forest who passed away after a long battle with cancer in 2008, is smiling. That’s because the Wellington Education Grant named after Spinelli is working hard to help students across the community.

“The Keely Spinelli Education Grant has positively impacted Binks Forest Elementary School students in the areas of reading and math,” current Binks Forest Principal Michella Levy said. “Binks was able to hire three qualified tutors to serve students in first grade through fifth grade during the school day.”

Since 2013, the Wellington Village Council has allocated $275,000 to provide funding for the 11 public schools in the Village of Wellington to assist students in the lowest 25th percentile in reading and math. The Wellington Education Committee is responsible for monitoring and administering the grant.

At their meeting in August, committee members will hear from all 11 local schools for 2016-17 grant requests.

“Binks Forest is so grateful that we were recipients of the grant,” Levy added.

The other 10 schools that have benefited from the Keely Spinelli Education Grant are Elbridge Gale, Equestrian Trails, New Horizons, Panther Run and Wellington elementary schools; Polo Park, Emerald Cove and Wellington Landings middle schools; and Palm Beach Central and Wellington high schools.

Each school has used the money to provide additional resources and tutoring to students.

“The students really enjoy the non-fiction, high-interest Leveled Literacy Intervention (LLI) books that are on their specific reading levels,” Levy said. “Leveled Literacy Intervention is used with small reading groups.”

Equestrian Trails Elementary School Principal Michele Johnson is also thankful for the Keely Spinelli Education Grant.

“The teachers and parents have been greatly impressed with the growth of these students and grateful that this generous grant has been given to these students to succeed,” Johnson said. “I personally did not know Keely, but I can only imagine how much it would mean to her, knowing a grant in her name and honor, made such a difference for struggling readers.”

Things weren’t easy at Equestrian Trails before the Spinelli grant was created.

“As a non-Title 1 school, we don’t get the teachers to work with our lowest 25th percentile scored students,” Johnson said. “It’s hard. To pull out the small group for instruction is a tough task. These students are now getting the instruction they need that we couldn’t afford previously without the grant.”

Spinelli worked as a teacher in the western communities before becoming a principal. The grant is a fitting tribute to an educator who was so dedicated to her craft. Reading and math were near and dear to her heart.

“I knew Keely very well,” Elbridge Gale Elementary School Principal Gail Pasterczyk said. “She had a true passion for literacy and was an expert in the field. She would be thrilled to know that her legacy is living on in the community of Wellington. She has truly made a difference in the lives of so many children, and that’s what it’s all about. It was an honor for me to know her and work with her.”

Pasterczyk was assistant principal at Manatee Elementary School when she met Spinelli’s husband, Peter, who was a teacher at Manatee. At that time, Spinelli’s son Andrew was in kindergarten at Manatee, where Spinelli volunteered for special events — like the time she came in dressed as Cruella de Vil for Storybook Character Day and thrilled the students.

At that time, Spinelli was principal at Belvedere Elementary School.

“When I opened Elbridge Gale 11 years ago, Peter Spinelli was one of my original teachers,” Pasterczyk said. “I recall her sitting on the floor of his classroom helping him sort and set up his leveled library.”

Spinelli served on the board at Palms West Hospital and led the West Area Literacy Training Center. Due to her passion to teach children to read, her colleagues created a library in her honor for children at Palms West Hospital.

“After she left Binks Forest, Spinelli was in charge of the West Area Literacy Project for two years on the campus of Elbridge Gale,” Pasterczyk said. “She trained teachers on the components of Balanced Literacy. She demonstrated lessons. Then they observed teachers in classrooms and, finally, they practiced what they had learned with a group of students, all under her watchful eye.”

Students in the lowest 25th percentile at Elbridge Gale have made tremendous gains, Pasterczyk said. “Last year, and the year before, we only had one third-grade retention,” she said. “We are extremely grateful for the Keely Spinelli grant, as it has provided funds to provide tutoring for our students. We have also been able to purchase Leveled Literacy Intervention kits, Reading A to Z, Reading Plus and technology to assist our struggling students.”

Pasterczyk is very thankful to the Village of Wellington for the program.

“There aren’t words that could ever adequately express our gratitude for these funds,” Pasterczyk said. “We don’t receive any funds for tutoring and materials, since we are not a Title 1 school, so this is a true blessing for our students.”

At Panther Run Elementary School, the Spinelli grant has allowed the school to provide students with tutors in the primary grades to supplement its reading program. This year, Panther Run added a math tutor.

“I have had teachers in primary grades who have expressed overwhelming appreciation for the extra help that they have received from quality tutors to raise student achievement,” Panther Run Principal Pamela Strachan said.

With the Leveled Literacy Intervention kits, Panther Run students in the program are given books to take home on a daily basis to read with their parents.

“We have had the opportunity over the last three years to purchase reading materials for reading interventions,” Strachan said. “These Leveled Literacy Intervention kits are not provided to non-Title 1 schools by the Palm Beach County School District, so the Wellington grant gave us the opportunity to purchase the kits. We have been able to purchase more kits each year to supplement our reading intervention program.”

Strachan taught with Spinelli at H.L. Johnson Elementary School in Royal Palm Beach.

“She was that special teacher who we all wanted our children to have as their teacher,” Strachan said of Spinelli. “When she became the principal at Binks Forest, she had an incredible effect on her staff and students. Her passion was reading, and passing her love of reading to her students. I feel honored that her spirit lives with us today through this grant honored in her name.”