Dixon principal and explore center educator

Dixon Elementary School Principal Alice Gonzales (left) and Explora Center educator Lauren Butcher teach about different bird beaks to a class of fifth- and sixth-graders. 

Española School District’s Dixon Elementary School is one of two New Mexico schools to garner recognition as a National ESEA (Elementary and Secondary Education Act) Distinguished School for achieving two consecutive years of academic growth. 

Principal Alice Gonzales was proud to share her school’s accomplishment, and she extended congratulations to students, staff and community members. 

“Being named a National ESEA Distinguished School solidifies the importance of small, rural community schools and the positive growth that happens within,” she said. 

Dixon Elementary School serves 49 students in the town of Dixon. It is a Title I school, meaning it receives federal funding for serving a low-income population. All Dixon Elementary students receive free or reduced lunches, and 10 percent are English learners. 

The school’s overall proficiency in reading and math increased from 30 percent to more than 57 percent in three years.

Gonzales said the school experiences a lot of community and family support. 

“The staff is united and we trust each other,” she said. “We have a Title I teacher who works with our students who are struggling the most and sees where they need improvement.” 

Dixon parent Megan Johnson has two children in the school, a second-grader and a fifth-grader, who have been nurtured both academically and socially at Dixon Elementary, she said. She characterized Dixon as a tight-knit community that works together toward common goals. 

“It’s a very cooperative experience,” Johnson said. “Many of the teachers at Dixon have become close friends. You get to know everyone really well and become invested in the livelihood of neighbors. As a parent, it’s important to me to support not only my own kids but others in the community as well.”

Johnson said the national award has given Dixon students a tremendous amount of pride for accomplishing something special. 

Two hats

Gonzales is not only the school’s principal; she is also a teacher. She was joined Oct. 29 in the classroom by Lauren Butcher from Explora to teach her costumed fifth- and sixth-graders about how different shapes of bird beaks evolved to eat various kinds of food. The students, dressed as ghosts, witches and sailors, used chopsticks to pick up seeds from a tray.

At a small school like Dixon, the five total teachers are in charge of two grade levels each. Gonzales said that having a student for two years in a row can help a teacher know where they might be lagging and need to build proficiency. She also said the school performs “social and emotional check-ins” often to ensure their students are engaged and ready to learn.

“We slow lessons down if we need to focus on the concepts,” Gonzales said. “We look for mastery, developing those strong foundational skills that help make everything come easier.”

The Elementary and Secondary Education Act, passed in 1965, authorizes federal funding for schools like Dixon Elementary. 

Dixon’s Title I tutor instructs students from every grade who have difficulty reading. Last year, she was able to use more than $1,000 of Title I funding to buy special programs, tools and games for teaching reading by engaging her students’ different senses. She said she communicates about a child’s needs with other teachers and then combines aspects of different reading programs to help them improve. The flash cards, electronic pens and other multisensory literacy methods she uses help younger and dyslexic readers to connect letters, syllables, and sounds. 

“With the fifth- and sixth-graders, I have noticed their reading improving dramatically,” Dixon’s tutor said. 

The New Mexico Public Education Department nominated Dixon to be a National ESEA Distinguished School for “excellent student performance for two consecutive years.” 

In 2022, Gonzales and some of her staff members will travel to New Orleans to attend a national conference and receive their award. 

Gonzales said the school will continue building and maintaining relationships and open communication to achieve their goals. 

“Our students are really happy,” she said. “That’s something we take pride in, taking care of their everyday needs.”

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