“I knew the kids had a lot of ability.”

— Lucille Keaton, former principal

  • Las Vegas, Nevada
  • Grades PK-5
  • Public
  • Urban
  • DTM awarded in 2011

School Overview

After her school was awarded the Dispelling the Myth Award in 2011, Halle Hewetson Elementary School’s principal was tapped for a district position in 2012.

When Lucille Keaton came to Halle Hewetson Elementary School as assistant principal, it was one of the lowest performing schools in low-performing Las Vegas. Quite near the old “Strip,” the school was a collection of low concrete buildings, many of them among the older buildings in the district, with a hot asphalt strip the only place for the children to play.

Her initial tour of the school revealed, among other things, a kindergarten teacher who had brought in a reclining lounge chair where he sat watching videos with his students. “I told him he had until Friday to get the chair and the television out of the classroom or they would be on the street,” she remembered.

Along with some other horror stories, Keaton also found other teachers who were teaching their hearts out with few results, in part because they were all teaching in isolation. One of those was fourth-grade teacher Salvador Rosales who remembered that kids would do well in his class but, Keaton said, “We were like all the other high-poverty at-risk schools. There was no leadership and no rich discussions about how we’re going to change this and how everybody will be held accountable.”

The school officially had a bilingual Spanish and English program, but many of the teachers hadn’t been properly trained to handle such a sophisticated program. Keaton, who had taught and administered bilingual programs in California, advocated to get rid of the program and teach solely in English. “There was too much to repair,” she said. “I thought if we went all English it would give us a base.”

She became principal and the school went to all-English instruction. She and Rosales, who became the literacy coordinator, led the training of the teachers. “I knew the kids had a lot of ability and we were confusing them too much. I didn’t want us to get bogged down with a lot of extra programs. Same reading program, same math program,” she said. “No program would be introduced that wasn’t approved at the grade level.”

Teachers stepped up their reading instruction and kids began reading more books building to an average of 120 a year in 2011.

But writing instruction remained weak until Keaton and Rosales collaborated on building a careful writing instruction program that taught the essentials of voice, clarity, and precision.

Writing scores soared and in 2011, 63 percent of Hewetson’s students were proficient or advanced, compared with 43 percent in the state. That’s quite a feat when 71 percent of the students are considered English language learners and many students don’t speak English at home.

The year after Hewetson was awarded the DTM, Keaton was tapped to be assistant superintendent of the district’s English Language Learner program, and she in turn tapped Rosales to work on literacy at the district level. Shortly after being appointed, she said that “now I have 53,000 ELL students” to focus on preparing to graduate and go one.

She has, she said, passed the baton of school leadership on to the new principal.