As many schools across the state struggle to meet Adequate Yearly Progress standards, two McDuffie County Schools recently were recognized for making AYP for 10 consecutive years.
Thomson Elementary and Maxwell Elementary schools were both on the Georgia Department of Education's list of only 30 schools with the achievement. Thomson Elementary Principal Anita Cummings and Maxwell Elementary Principal Donna Bennett were recognized at the McDuffie County School Board's monthly meeting in August.
AYP is a series of performance goals set by the state for each school district and school for the realization of the No Child Left Behind Act. It is a measure of year-to-year student achievement on statewide assessments that requires schools to meet standards in test participation and academic performance of core subjects.
Hannah Fowler was principal of Maxwell Elementary when AYP mandates began, and remained principal for seven years, before moving on to work as a facilitator of Needs Improvement Schools for the GDOE. In an interview with The Mirror, Dr. Fowler said she believes one of the reasons MES has been so successful with AYP is the school's sustainability in programs used to teach students, the professional development programs for teachers and the low teacher turn-over rate.
"All of those things are factors that I feel strongly have created an environment conducive to learning. There's been three different principals (in the 10 years), and each one has held onto the same things. â€¦ They have taken what they saw was a working model and tweaked and polished a good machine to keep it going," she said.
AYP was mandated the second year Dr. Fowler was principal. When it began, she - and each of the principals after her, Mychele Rhodes and Ms. Bennett - had to focus on data of individual students.
"We had to look more at individuals that we really needed to work on. And the biggest part was how do we change what we're doing in the classroom to meet the needs of those students," Dr. Fowler said. "Because you can't meet the individual needs and still have students sitting in rows holding textbooks."
Dr. Fowler said the low turn-over rate means the teachers have buy-in that what they're doing truly makes a difference. And it is teachers making a difference that Donald Davis credits as Thomson Elementary's success with AYP. Mr. Davis retired as principal of TES in 2005 after 13 years, and went on to become a School Improvement Specialist with the GDOE. Beth Newton was his successor.
Dr. Davis said the TES faculty cared about the children to the point of purchasing warm clothing for them in the winter or medicine when the parents could not afford it. And they cared for each other the same way, preparing meals during hard times and celebrations in good times.
"These types of acts created an atmosphere of trust within the school and between the school and parents," Dr. Davis said. "With this trust, the TES team took risks when it came to seeking what would support learning for all of their students. Many successful instructional strategies that helped the school district at one time to become a â€˜must visit' by educators from throughout the state were developed and nurtured at Thomson Elementary."
The No Child Left Behind Act mandates a 100 percent proficiency rate for all schools by 2014. Each year, the standard has been raised slightly over the year before. In Georgia, the increment of the Georgia Performance Standards curriculum, along with raising the minimum percentage of students that have to score on grade level and increasing the subjects tested on has made the NCLB Act elusive for many schools.
According to the GDOE website, congress is in the process of reauthorizing NCLB, and the state superintendent has offered suggestions for improving the law.
Dr. Davis said the faculty at TES did what was needed to overcome whatever barriers that may have stood in the way of student learning and got them off a platform of low performance 10 years ago.
"I am very proud of the successes that we were able to achieve at Thomson Elementary during my tenure as principal and I am just as pleased to see that it is continuing after my retirement," he said. "Long before No Child Left Behind became law, the TES team was working to help make every child a successful learner."