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Leonardo da Vinci tops state-wide rankings

GREEN BAY – Leonardo da Vinci School for Gifted Learners is making national headlines.

The K-8 school, located on Monroe Avenue in downtown Green Bay, was recently highlighted by U.S. News & World Report as both the No.1 public elementary and middle school in the state.

“We teach the state standards,” Principal Tammy VanDyke said. “We have academically-advanced students. We need to keep them challenged. We also provide the necessary support to help our gifted learners deal with the challenges that may come with being academically-advanced (such as) disorganization, anxiety, perfectionism and procrastination.”

This is the first year the national publication has ranked public elementary and middle schools, similar to its annual high school and college rankings.

“Our family was beyond thrilled and very proud that da Vinci was ranked as the No. 1 elementary and middle school in the state of Wisconsin, but we were not surprised,” Lisa Knuth, parent of sixth grade Leonardo da Vinci student and PTO president, said. “The countless hours logged by the teachers and staff create an environment for success.”

According to U.S. News & World Report, its methodology behind the rankings for K-8 schools focused on two areas of proficiency, math and reading.

Schools are also ranked on how well they prepare students for high school. 

According to the metric used by U.S. News & World Report, 97% of Leonardo da Vinci students scored at or above the proficient level for math and 94% scored at or above that level for reading.

This significantly out-scores the district as a whole, where 29% of students tested at or above the proficient level for reading and 35% tested at or above that level for math.

Statewide, 41% of students tested at or above the proficient level for reading, and 44% for math.

The rankings come just prior to the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction’s release of its 2020-21 report cards, expected to be released Nov. 16.

VanDyke said the recognition is worthwhile, but with or without it, Leonardo da Vinici has always strived for student success.

She said the school started as a school within a school at Langlade Elementary School in 2012, with 72 students in grades 2-6.

“We now have our own building, at capacity, (which opened in 2014),” she said. “Current enrollment is 366 students. We are typically at capacity and have a waitlist for entrance.”

VanDyke said students must pass rigorous academic standards and be among the top learners to enroll.

“Students take part in a screening assessment to be a learner at da Vinci,” she said. “Students need to score in the 96th, or higher, percentile to be seen as a match for the academic rigor of the program.”

Student-centered learning

VanDyke said the school is designed to serve academically-gifted learners.

“We focus on the pace of learning, the depth of the learning and the academic rigor,” she said. “We create academic clusters and a schedule each year based on the needs of our students.”

A unique aspect of Leonardo da Vinci, VanDyke said, is students learn at an academic level, not an age level.

“Students take part in out-of-level instruction,” she said. “For example, we have students in grades 6-8 taking algebra, geometry, algebra 2 and pre-calculus. We have second grade students working on fourth-grade math. The academic teaching team adjusts their teaching assignments each year to match the needs of the learners.”

Knuth said this helps prepare students to be leaders.

“The leader/learner mentality is introduced on day one, followed by a consistent emphasis on altruism, respect and determination,” she said. “We see these traits in our son not only at school, but also at home.”

VanDyke said the curriculum is student-centered and diverse.

Academic clustering and cross-curricular units are used to meet the unique academic, social and emotional needs of gifted students, she said.

She also said students make global connections studying Spanish and Mandarin.

“We provide social/emotional support and executive-functioning skill development through our K-8 base team program,” VanDyke said. 

She said students learn skills for the future, including:  

• Interact with peers from learning to ask someone to play a game on the playground to learning how to disagree and still be friends.

• Send professional emails.

• Advocate for themselves.

• Research, write, create presentations and speak in front of a group of people.

• Give back to the community.

• Financial literacy.

“Our son, Deacon, is in sixth grade at da Vinci and has been at the school since kindergarten,” Knuth said. “When my husband and I realized that Deacon was learning at an accelerated pace, as early as pre-school, we knew that we were going to have to find a way to challenge him and keep him engaged. Our search quickly led us to Leonardo da Vinci. Being a student at da Vinci means you and your entire family become part of a unique school community focused on accelerated learning and leading. We are grateful to live in a district that allows our son to learn in this environment.”

U.S. News & World Report said its basis for the rankings is to provide parents with another resource.

“By focusing on academics, we hope these rankings provide parents insight into a key element of school quality,” Eric Brooks, U.S. News & World Report principal data analyst, said. “They can use the rankings, our data and word-of-mouth research to learn about Wisconsin schools’ environments, administration and student services to best find schools that may be a good fit for their children.”

VanDyke credits school staff for the successful curriculum.

“I work with an amazing group of dedicated staff members who do whatever it takes to make sure students are successful,” VanDyke said. “We also have supportive parents/guardians who value education and want their children to be successful learners.”

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