McDuffie County School officials breathed a collective sigh of relief Monday afternoon.
The school system got word that it was part of an elite group. McDuffie County is one of only 44 out of Georgia's 181 school systems in which all of its schools made Adequate Yearly Progress in 2004.
To add to the good news, McDuffie County is one of only nine systems in Georgia of similar size or larger to be completely compliant with AYP requirements. According to Superintendent Mark Petersen, that puts McDuffie County in the top 5 percent in the state.
But it was a voice from the recent past that saw the accomplishments necessary to make AYP take place on his watch.
"I am extremely pleased," said former McDuffie County Superintendent Ed Grisham, who retired at the end of June after 13 years. "An awful lot of people have worked hard to bring this about, and I just salute the teachers in the classroom who have been very focused on reading and math. We've seen tremendous improvement throughout the system."
The compliance with the state and federal requirements in the No Child Left Behind Act were enough to spark a celebration. School officials gathered at the central office in Thomson on Tuesday to commemorate the accomplishment with a little dancing and a lot of kind words for those who helped make it happen.
Making AYP as a system is something that fits in well with Dr. Petersen's goal of taking the school system from good to great.
"It's a great starting point for us for this coming year," he said. "I think that this validates the fact that we are a good school system."
But according to Dr. Petersen the work is not done. AYP is measured not only in each school but within subgroups in those schools as well. For instance, groups that have more than 40 people -- broken down by grade, gender, race, etc. -- have to have 95 percent participation in each assessment.
"Certainly we have some subgroups that we want to make sure that we eliminate some of the gaps that are there," Dr. Petersen said.
To make AYP, each subgroup and the school as a whole must meet several additional requirements. A certain percentage of students must score proficient in language arts and math.
The state of Georgia uses the Criterion-Referenced Competency Tests as the AYP assessment for elementary and middle schools. High schools use the Enhanced Georgia High School Graduation Test. For special education students with the most severe cognitive impairments, the state uses the Georgia Alternate Assessment.
Also an additional assessment can be chosen by the school district. McDuffie County elementary schools chose attendance, and Thomson Middle chose the writing test. High Schools in Georgia are required to use graduation rates as their second indicator.
"In the case of McDuffie County Schools, every one of the schools met all of the criteria in the different sub grouped areas," said Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction Kathy Collins. "We are delighted. We are just as pleased as we can be."
If schools do not make AYP, they are given a one-year reprieve so that improvements can be made. After two years of not meeting the requirements, schools are given Needs Improvement status.
Schools on the Needs Improvement list must deal with escalating consequences for each year they do not meet AYP. Those consequences include school choice, supplemental services and restructuring. To be taken off the list, a school must meet AYP requirements two consecutive years.
But now McDuffe County doesn't have any of that hanging over its head, at least for one more year. Administrators have vowed to continue the work that got them this far. According to Thomson Elementary Principal Donald Davis, the challenge is greater to stay at the top than it is to climb there because the target becomes elusive.
"It's a most comprehensive set of standards," Dr. Grisham said. "For any school to be able to meet all of them is tremendous."
Compared to the school systems surrounding McDuffie, the county again fared well. Warren County was the only system bordering McDuffie to have all of its schools meet AYP. Jefferson County met the requirements as a system, but Louisville Middle did not.
Other surrounding counties that did not make AYP as a system were Wilkes, Lincoln, Columbia and Richmond Counties.