Tuesday, December 7, 2004

The Bus Stopped Here: GPEE Recognizes Schools of Excellence

This year Georgia Public Broadcasting was pleased to have the opportunity to participate in the Georgia Partnership for Excellence in Education's 12th Annual Bus Trip Across Georgia. The trip took us to fourteen exemplary schools located all around the state and representing a variety of approaches to educational excellence. Each of these schools proudly presented its own special recipe for success, which most often included a mix of strong leadership, innovative and research-based pedagogical techniques, and family and community involvement. We were so impressed with what we saw in these schools and systems that we would like to take this opportunity to recognize each of them.


Samuel E. Hubbard Elementary School - Monroe County Schools
Principal: Angela S. Dillon

This elementary school in Forsyth, Georgia serves 885 students, of whom more than half receive free and reduced lunches. Its areas of excellence include both the use of data to improve teaching and learning, and the development of strong community partnerships that support education. Samuel E. Hubbard Elementary School administrators rely heavily on both the school and the county's Continuous Improvement Plan, designed to attain high student achievement and success, develop organization effectiveness, and ensure student and stakeholder engagement and loyalty. Principal Dillon and her staff meet the demands of this plan by collecting and disaggregating data, which allows them to isolate populations that are having difficulty and develop strategies for improvement that are unique to those particular groups' needs. Support from an active Parent Teacher Organization and such initiatives as the Parent Volunteer and Mentoring Programs complement the school's focus on academic performance to create a learning environment that prepares its children to be successful.

Byron Middle School - Peach County Schools
Principal: Dr. Ken Banter

Byron Middle School, located in Byron, Georgia, is one of 26 schools named by State Superintendent Kathy Cox as a school of excellence. Byron Middle School displays its commitment to education in no uncertain terms in its mission statement - which outlines goals ranging from academic and behavioral excellence to character development to the fostering of students' later active and successful membership in society. One of the initiatives that composes Byron Middle's stellar education program is Project Winning Team, a grant-funded program designed to meet the needs of special needs students using an inclusion model and team teaching - that means Byron's special needs students have the opportunity to learn in the regular classroom setting with not one, but two teachers, one of whom is certified in interrelated special education. Another program that sets Byron Middle School apart is its Educational Talent Search, which provides those students with strong potential to go on to post-secondary education with the tools they need to succeed, such as needs assessment, academic and personal counseling, financial aid assistance, and tutoring. With projects such as these addressing the needs of its various populations, it is no wonder that Byron Middle School has exceeded the state averages on the CRCT for the last three years in a row.

Houston County High School
Principal: Sheila Beckham

The largest school we visited by far, Houston County High School in Warner Robins, Georgia may sound familiar to many of you; it is highlighted in a special student-produced video currently airing on the GPB Education satellite. HCHS has gained not only state, but national recognition as well for integrating technology into every aspect of the education process - in virtually every imaginable subject. Classrooms at HCHS are equipped with interactive boards, Star panels, classroom performance systems, and wireless laptops. Much of the technology that enhances the instruction at HCHS is provided by strategic partnerships with organizations such as Intel and Hitachi. Technology at Houston County High School is not only a medium for teaching, though; it is also a subject for learning. The school's midi lab is equipped with software that allows students to practice music notation, learn music theory, and compose their own music. Students in the woods program use sophisticated software to create the blueprints they use to build complicated pieces like furniture. No matter what the subject area, HCHS has found a way to integrate technology into its teaching, resulting in students that are more engaged AND better prepared to participate in an increasingly technological job market.

Wilkinson County Primary/Elementary School
Principal: Donna Poole

Wilkinson County Primary/Elementary School serves nearly 900 children, of whom almost two-thirds are eligible for free and reduced lunch; of those economically disadvantaged children, 13 percent earned a rating of exceeds on the CRCTs. Wilkinson demonstrates the important correlation between having a well-developed professional learning community and student success. Principal Poole has developed strong partnerships with Oconee RESA and Georgia's Leadership Institute for School Improvement, which have allowed for the development of a school Design Team that guides the school's instructional system based on data analysis and research. The Design Team has implemented the Direct instruction method of teaching reading - the subject on which every student spends the first 85 minutes of his or her day. Reading skills are taught in conjunction with Writer's Workshop, a program that teaches effective written expression skills while enriching students' language development. Wilkinson Primary/Elementary maintains its standard of excellence achieved through these programs by utilizing available data about student performance and evaluating the effectiveness of school programs on a continual basis.

D. D. Crawford Primary School
Principal: Roy Wilcher

Crawford Primary's mission is "Building the Future One Child At a Time," and it serves each of its 250 children, all of whom are on free and reduced lunch, with a comprehensive tutorial program. Teachers and support staff all receive regular training on how to identify student needs and provide instruction tailored to address them. Crawford collects and analyzes data on student performance to determine which students are in need of special assistance. Students selected to participate in the tutorial program have access to small group instruction led by paraprofessionals on a daily basis; tutorial sessions are aligned with the curriculum taught in the regular classroom. This collaboration between teachers and tutors has brought clear and impressive results. This year, 100 percent of Crawford's kindergarten class achieved the level of "Ready for First Grade" on the Georgia Kindergarten Assessment Program. Over 90 percent of first graders scored "exceeds" on the 2004 CRCTs in the areas of reading, language arts, and math. In addition to its strong academic program, students at Crawford Primary also have the support of an involved community that gives of its time and money to help them succeed.

A.R. Johnson Health Science and Engineering Magnet High School
Principal: Deborah Walker

A.R. Johnson High School offers those students who have always wanted to be doctors or engineers the opportunity to start their professional training before they even get to college. Partnerships with health and engineering facilities such as the Medical College of Georgia and Augusta Technical College allow students to explore real-life problems through hands-on experience. Local professional volunteers also share their expertise with students through internships, shadowing/ apprenticeships, and school-to-work programs. In addition to the career courses students in the magnet courses take, A.R. Johnson provides top quality instruction in the regular curriculum. One hundred percent of students passed the language arts, math, and social studies portions of the Georgia High School Graduation Test. Ninety-seven percent of students exceeded the passing scores in science and writing and the school's average SAT score has topped the state and national averages for three years running. With every student who graduates from A.R. Johnson's magnet program receiving a college preparatory seal, it is a logical choice for students who would like to go on work in healthcare or engineering.

Thomson Elementary School
Principal: Dr. Donald Davis

Thomson Elementary School puts reading first, involving every single faculty member in its TES Reading initiative in either a support or a teaching capacity. The program includes three hours of reading instruction in both large and small groups, and employs a comprehensive approach to teaching reading that covers phonemic awareness, explicit phonics, fluency, vocabulary instruction, constructing meaning from text, guided reading, and the motivation to read. Every Pre K through third grade child is enrolled in the reading program, whose effectiveness is documented through a series of assessments such as Accelerated Readers reports, Anywhere Learning Systems, Comprehensive Reading Tests, and the Basic Literary Test. Student success is regularly rewarded with some form of public recognition, whether it is a badge that reflects their level of success in the reading program, a mention during the morning announcements, or an acknowledgement at the regular assemblies where certificates of achievement are awarded. The combination of intense instruction and consistent recognition of student efforts has yielded solid results; ninety-eight percent of students graduating from Thomson Elementary either meeting or exceeding state reading standards.


Meadowview Elementary School
Principal: Zandra Sherwood

This year round school has earned recognition for its achievement in standards-based learning in math and reading. Principal Sherwood has cultivated a staff that more than meets the No Child Left Behind Act's standard for teacher qualification: she only hires teachers who hold a Master's Degree or higher. The View, as members of the Meadowview community refer to it, employs the Reading First program, which provides every student in grades one through three with three uninterrupted hours of reading instruction. Teachers utilize a fusion of strategies, ranging from text reading and writing workshops to vocabulary and print conventions - all of these methods are based on state, national, and international competency standards. Math at Meadowview teaches students to solve real world problems, reason effectively, and make logical connections. The use of songs, wireless remote controlled math trivia games, and dance make the learning of basic concepts fun for students. Meadowview is producing students that not only achieve academically, but also love learning and take pride their school.

Monroe Primary School
Principal: Donna Bishop

The exemplary initiatives at Monroe Primary School are almost too many to count. EDNA Goble Guided Reading program offers every student 45 minutes of leveled reading, which means that they are grouped with other students based on their reading ability for that portion of the day so that their specific needs can be addressed. Mathematics is also taught for 45 minutes each day in groups organized according to skill level. Monroe Primary's teachers have an average of 15 years of teaching experience and Principal Bishop is an active participant in Georgia's Leadership Institute for School Improvement. All staff members have received training in Learning Focus Strategies, which use essential questions, rubrics for assessments, and daily writing to help students achieve. The innovative programs at Monroe are all part of a larger comprehensive school design, which incorporates research and best practices to prepare students for entry into upper elementary school.

Gainesville Elementary School (GES)
Principal: Shawn McCollough

Part of the mission at Gainesville Elementary is "expecting and celebrating excellence." Expectations of teachers are high. Disaggregated performance data is regularly posted on a website that anyone can access - and it is listed by individual class so that every teacher is held publicly accountable for the successes or difficulties his or her students are having. Students at GES benefit from cross grade teaming, which allows them to rotate between four different teachers who each specialize in reading, language arts, math, and test preparation, thereby allowing them access to the highest quality instruction in each subject area. GES addresses the needs of its diverse population, of whom 90 percent qualify as high poverty and nearly 70 percent are ESOL students, with an extended school day for low performing students that gives them extra training on basic skills in reading, language arts, and math. GES also reaches out to the parents of immigrant children with a Family Literacy Program that allows parents to attend classes during the school day to learn how to read. The high standards of excellence in place at Gainesville Elementary in combination with partnerships with organizations such as NASA and Even Start Family Literacy ensure its students not only have an equal opportunity to learn, but also that they achieve to the highest levels.

Jack P. Nix Primary School (JPN)
Principal: Jennifer King

Principal King has been very proactive in adopting programs and seeking grants that bring the students at Jack P. Nix Primary the best in resources and instruction. The school makes use of the Four Blocks of Literacy Program and incorporates guided reading, independent reading, writing and phonemic skills into literacy instruction. As part of the Learn and Serve Grant, students at JPN write and publish books for pre-school aged children in the local community; this initiative allows the students to develop literacy skills while also other young learners get ready to learn. Students receive a well-rounded education that incorporates art, music and drama into daily classroom activities in addition to the special art and music classes they attend each week. The program of study at JPN is paying off in terms of student achievement. In 2003-2004, 98 percent of kindergarteners were assessed as being ready for first grade through the Georgia Kindergarten Assessment Program. Over 80 percent of first and second graders met or exceeded expectations in the reading, language arts, and mathematics portions of the CRCT. One of the most impressive figures JPN has to offer is the number of books its students read through the Accelerated Reader Program; last year alone, JPN students read a total of 46,479 books! Jack P. Nix is doing a great job of laying the foundations that its students need to continue on into upper elementary school with the tools they need for success.

Lumpkin County High School (LCHS)
Principal: Rudy Hampton

Lumpkin County High School is striving to be a Georgia High School of Distinction, and the progress it has made in the last four years is impressive. Since 2001, the average SAT score has risen a full 72 points to 1053, which means that more students from LCHS are graduating with the knowledge they need to enter college. For students who are not on the college track, LCHS has a relevant and rigorous vocational education department, which allows them the opportunity to learn job skills that will help them to begin working after graduation in such fields as agriculture, automotives, business, and healthcare and science technology. There is also an extensive fine arts program that allows students to use their talents to express themselves artistically through music, art, and drama. Lumpkin County High School is able to give its students even more opportunities through community partnerships with organizations like Pioneer RESA, Lanier Technical School, and the U.S. Forest Service, which join with area businessmen and women to share their resources and expertise with learners at LCHS.

Chattahoochee Technical College
President: Dr. Harlon Crimm

Chattahoochee Technical College is working with area high schools in Cobb County, Paulding County, and Marietta City to provide students with an interest in pursuing technical education with a seamless opportunity to learn. Through Chattahoochee Tech's High School Dual Enrollment Program, more than 1,400 students are currently learning important skills that give them both high school and college credit. Students wishing to participate must pass all three parts of the ASSET test and meet regular requirements for admission, which means "program ready." This opportunity allows high school students to get a head start on their technical education and to receive job training in occupational areas with strong growth trends. Students with technical college certificates have access to increased job opportunities that they can either choose for full time employment or undertake part-time as they continue their education.

Chapel Hill Middle School (CHMS)
Principal: Bill Foster

Chapel Hill Middle School was named in 2003-2003 as a Model School in Georgia. Since that time, it has continued to use a combination of school improvement planning and the utilization of data to surpass academic standards of excellence. Each year Principal Foster leads his faculty in the development of the school improvement plan, which sets academic goals based on CRCT scores at each grade level. Additional goals are set in math, reading, and language arts in accordance with and measured by the Iowa Test of Basic Skills. Chapel Hill's mission is to develop the whole child, so faculty and staff focus not only on academics, but also on students' physical, social, and emotional development. CHMS has developed a strong culture of accountability and achievement, where every student is committed to giving 100 % of their efforts each school day. Student performance is regularly measured, using both objective and subjective assessments, offering students a variety of opportunities and learning experiences. For 2002-2003, CHMS showed a nine percent increase of students passing the reading portion of the CRCT, a 14% increase in language arts, and a 10% increase in math. An impressive 100% of students surpassed writing expectations, ranking CHMS within the top 10% of middle schools in Georgia. Students at Chapel Hill Middle have access to the best that education can offer, and their continued achievement reflects the hard work and planning of both teachers and administrators.

There are a great many different qualities that set each of these schools apart as schools of excellence - there is no perfect formula that guarantees success. One thing that each school we visited on the Bus Trip have in common is strong leadership with a commitment to improving student achievement. Please join Georgia Public Broadcasting and the Georgia Partnership for Excellence in Education in saluting these leaders and the work they are doing to help Georgia students achieve.