McDuffie County students got off to a solid start, said Superintendent Mark Petersen.
Two months into the school year, things are looking positive as enrollment hit a new high of 4,110 and SAT scores are up 19 points over last year. Attendance is good, remaining between 96 and 98 percent.
The system filled some key positions this year that will support the continued efforts for academic excellence. Margie Waters was named assistant superintendent of personnel, Rudy Falana was named principal of Thomson High School, Lynn Cato and Donna Bennett were named assistant principals at Thomson High School and Maxwell Elementary, and Mychele Swain, who served as interim principal at Maxwell Elementary last year, was named principal.
The new personnel will join educators already in place whose hard work was rewarded when the school system received a federal stamp of approval by making "Adequate Yearly Progress" under the federal No Child Left Behind Act.
Across Georgia, 44 school systems out of 181 made AYP, but only nine school systems with six or more schools made the grade. McDuffie County was one of those schools.
"Numerically, that puts us in the top five percent," Dr. Petersen said.
The school system will celebrate this accomplishment with an AYP night on Friday, Oct. 8 at the Brickyard before the football game. Students are invited to the celebration that will feature fireworks, band music and special announcements.
"It might be a full night," Dr. Petersen predicted.
As part of the plan to maintain academic quality, substantive work in classrooms has already begun with students preparing for Georgia Criterion Referenced Competency Tests and the Enhanced Georgia High School Graduation Test, Dr. Petersen said.
Special emphasis is being placed on the high school test this year because students who do not pass the test won't be permitted to walk across the graduation stage with their classmates. In an effort to help as many students as possible earn a diploma, both before and after school graduation test tutoring is ongoing, Mr. Falana reported to the board in a planning meeting.
In fact, students are taking advantage of tutoring programs at all the schools. With the opening of a new tutoring program at Maxwell which will emphasize reading and math, every school now has a tutoring program or after school program in place.
In addition to tutoring programs, a new emphasis on mentoring should yield some positive results. High school athletes and band members are visiting elementary schools in a highly successful weekly mentoring partnership "that is a win-win situation," Dr. Petersen said.
Crossroads Learning Center, the county's alternative school will soon begin a new mentoring program heavily supported by the Rotary Club. In the near future, 38 new mentors will begin working with Crossroads students on a weekly basis, Dr. Petersen said.
Also at Crossroads this year, students can take classes over the internet, said Principal Steve Strouble at a planning meeting. New computer software has enabled the students to participate in "e-learning" this year.
Dearing Elementary also started a new program this year that has already proved highly successful: nursing students from the Medical College of Georgia are making home visits to assist parents with children's medical needs, Principal Linda Grisham said. Dearing Elementary has a long standing partnership with the Medical College of Georgia's nursing department.
Norris Elementary School students have made exceptional community service efforts this year in a campaign to help hurricane victims in Florida. The students collected bottled water and household supplies for Florida residents hardest hit by hurricanes. The students collected supplies in two separate drives at the school, said Principal Steve Rhodes. In addition, the Norris students had a Sept. 11 remembrance day at the school to honor those killed in the New York attacks.
Thomson Elementary School, which was named a Georgia School of Excellence, had a blue ribbon day Sept. 23. The school was one of 14 across the state selected to host about 65 business, political and education leaders during the Georgia Partnership for Excellence in Education's annual bus trip.
Speaking at a planning session, Ms. Swain said the Accelerated Reading Program was off to a strong start at Maxwell Elementary. The school hosted an AR kickoff night recently, and students have already begun reading books and taking quizzes to earn points and strengthen reading skills.
Thomson Middle School students are receiving some strong advice on making wise life decisions from the program LifeSkills Training. The substance abuse prevention program, based on 20 years of scientific research, provides students with the necessary skills to avoid high risk behavior.
Another successful prevention program is Choosing the Best. The curriculum teaches students to make wise relationship decisions and emphasizes the benefits of abstinence.
All the programs in place throughout the system are part of an overall plan that will raise the quality of education using a team approach that includes students, educators and the school board.
"I've got a terrific board," Dr. Petersen noted.
"We are not separate schools, we are one system. There is no reason for us to be second rate. Our children deserve the best."