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News from 2023-2024

Posted: May 14, 2024

Matheson Park Elementary School Teacher, Students Hitting it Out of the Park

Reading assessments show significant gains for students in Jonathon Brannon’s first-grade class.

Jonathon Brannon teaches his first-graders.

Jonathon Brannon teaches his first-graders.

School's Out Night: Get Your Tickets!

Jonathon Brannon knows it’s never too early to teach kids that the hard work they put in today will help them succeed in the future.

Brannon says that’s one reason his Matheson Park Elementary first-graders are doing so well, with iStation data showing a 29 percentage point increase in his class reading scores from the beginning to the middle of the school year.

“I attribute my students’ academic growth to providing a learning environment where students feel comfortable, safe, cared about, loved, valued, and heard,” he says. “I treat them like capable people, not babies. I help my students understand that everything we do is focused on preparing them to be successful in life.”

Mr. Brannon’s classroom—and thousands of others throughout the district—are the front lines in Albuquerque Public Schools’ efforts to improve outcomes for all students. The APS Board of Education has set four five-year goals: improving reading and math proficiency rates, preparing students for life after graduation, and equipping them with the life skills they need to be successful.

The district’s elementary schools are hyper-focused on the literacy goal because it sets the stage for future success in the classroom. At Matheson Park Elementary, 34.4% of students were reading at grade level as of the middle of the year, a 10.6 percentage point increase from the beginning of the school year.

Mr. Brannon’s class has seen even stronger growth. When the school year began, 14% of his students were at grade level in reading. By December, that number had jumped to 43%. And Brannon—who has been an educator for 30 years—says the end-of-year assessments will show even bigger gains.

The students in his class are keenly aware of their growth since the beginning of the year.

Ayanna, who is currently reading a book about two sisters and a king, notes that she’s almost at a third-grade reading level. She says she’s proud of “all the assessments we nailed.”

JoJo says he prefers math to reading but is still trying hard in reading.

“He helps us learn a lot,” Caloiope said of Mr. Brannon. “We have the highest test scores in the school because of my teacher.”

While motivating students to want to succeed has played a pivotal role in Brannon’s success, so, too, have the tactics he’s used.

“The biggest things that have helped my students with their scores are the word wall activities,” Brannon notes. “I did them before, but after taking the LETRS training it reinforced the importance of that, So I extended that and do more with it.

“For instance, the week’s words—the sight words for the week—I’ll put them up on the word wall,” he added. “We’ll take turns, we’ll go down and try to read all of the words together—so Monday, Tuesday maybe all together, Wednesday I start calling on individuals to try to read them by themselves, then Thursday and Friday it switches to calling on someone, pick a word. They pick the word. Read the word. Now tell us what the word means, and now use it in a sentence.”

Students get three tickets for those activities, which can be cashed in for prizes. Students who are struggling can call on a friend for help, but they have to split the tickets with the student who helped them.

“By doing that they become familiar with those words,” Brannon said. He also gives his students 12 to 16 extra vocabulary words every week and uses a variety of other tactics to help build his students’ reading abilities.

“I build a sense of community by reminding students that we are all here to learn,” he says. “We are all at different places in our growth, but by the end of the year we will all get there together.”

Q&A with Jonathon Brannon

I-station data shows a 29 percentage point growth in your class reading scores from the beginning to the middle of the school year. What do you attribute that success to?

I attribute my students' academic growth to providing a learning environment where students feel comfortable, safe, cared about, loved, valued and heard. I treat them like capable people, not babies. They know they can come to me with problems and they will be resolved. I help my students understand that everything we do is focused on preparing them to be successful in life.

What is your class's Wildly Important Goal?

For our WIG we have a schoolwide focus on language development. For my class, I focused on vocabulary. I teach additional vocabulary words that I know are key to students understanding concepts presented. This works, as on a recent field trip to the Natural History Museum a docent commented on the high level of vocabulary my students have. She also remarked on the strong connection she noticed between my students and me. She went on to say that she can tell because she is a retired veteran teacher of over 30 years.

How do you motivate your students to work hard on reading?

I motivate my students by having them think about their goals in life and striving to achieve them. I let them know I believe in them and they are capable of doing great things. I tell them to do their best in school so that when they grow up and decide what they want to be, they have the grades to do it. The last thing you want to do is decide you want to be a scientist but didn't pay attention in class and have D grades in science. The guy with the As gets the job. Knowing that I love and believe in them is the key. Funny story: I saw two of my former students this year. They are in their 20s and living successful lives. On two different occasions, they stopped me and reminded me I was their administrator. We talked, and they told me they remembered me motivating them. That is why I do this work.

I hear you have very high expectations for your students. How do you manifest that in your classroom and why is it important?

In my classroom, high expectations for student achievement begin with assessing where they are and communicating next steps for their learning. I do this with each individual student. When assigning tasks, I provide a range of challenges, and a level of support that allows every student to be successful no matter their performance level. Most importantly I challenge them to think for themselves and find solutions, rather than waiting for the teacher to provide the answer. I insist they support their answers, being able to locate specific evidence or explain their line of thought. 

You have a reputation for building community in your classroom. What types of things do you do to build community, and why is it important?

I build a sense of community by reminding students that we are all here to learn. We are all at different places in our growth, but by the end of the year, we will all get there together. We discuss the importance of making mistakes to learn, and if we all support each other rather than make fun of others, we will have a safe learning environment. One example is creating the class rules. We discussed what interferes with their learning. They created the list and selected the six most important that cover all aspects. We all signed it and refer to it when issues arise. Another example is peer teaching. I noticed that many of my students did not know how to tie their shoes. During our social-emotional lessons, we focused on helping others. We watched instructional videos and those who could taught the others to tie their shoes. This allowed them to build bonds while learning a skill. It also taught them that some of their classmates have different skills that help the group.

Tell me about your career as an educator.

I have been a teacher and administrator for 30 years. I served as assistant principal for 17 years and principal for two. I have been a classroom teacher for 11 years. I have been at Matheson Park for one year, though this is my fourth time working for APS.

Why did you become a teacher?

I became a teacher to help students realize they have the power to make their lives what they want them to be through education.

Is there anything else you would like to add?

I would like to thank my second grade teacher, Mrs. Newby for motivating me to strive for excellence. I would also like to thank my high school literature teacher Ms. Finan for teaching me the importance of becoming a good writer.  Rubidoux High class of 84, we are doing big things!