Monday, December 10, 2007

What's Right With Public Education?

The state of Georgia is often the poor step-child when it comes to good news regarding education. I thought it was time to share some news regarding Georgia schools that are making great strides with test scores and innovative programs.

Davidson Fine Arts Magnet School is a Richmond County school that posts the highest SAT score for the state year after year. The Georgia Public Policy Foundation consistently names Davidson’s middle school program as the best in the state. Students who wish to attend Davidson must undergo an interview and maintain a B average. They spend much of their school day in dance, chorus, theater, and fine arts classes. “We try to nurture them from sixth grade on,” the principal, Vicky Addison says. “They get caught up in the culture of the school, which is to work hard and excel.” Addison believes the key to success for her students is their involvement in the arts. Students learn discipline early on; and they learn to juggle academics and the arts, which requires them to be organized.

I'm glad Richmond County offers this type of school in their district. I wish every Georgia county had a fine arts school, however, isn't the school already set up for success by admitting only students who have a B average or higher?

International Community School in Dekalb County is a charter school that has a very diverse population and many ELL students. After two years, most are passing the CRCT. It’s a feat that has earned the charter school national attention. This year, International Community School was named a Distinguished Title I School for its success in closing the achievement gap between students with limited English and their American-born classmates. A program called “Parents as Teachers”, small classes, an assistant in every room, and a no grades policy (since many of the clients/parents would not understand them) are just some of the things that point the way to their success per the educators at the school. Instead of issuing grade reports parents and teachers meet to go over the standards and teachers report if the student has met or exceeded the standard. They also suggests strategies to help the child master the standard if they are behind. A Saturday school program was started last year with four Afghan girls whose siblings attended the school. Now students bring parents, grandparents, brothers, and sisters for two hours of intensive instruction.

It seem that the success this school has had speaks volumes regarding what can be done with parent enthusiasm and involvement. When our grade offered Saturday school two years ago less than ten kids showed up and parents merely dropped them off and then arrived 15 to 30 minutes after the appointed time to pick them up.

Tyrone Elementary School is in a middle class suburb of Atlanta, and many of the parents are educated. It’s also a small school with only 350 students. An average elementary school in Atlanta’s suburbs generally contains at least 500-600 students and some have as many as 1000. The staff completed a book study with the book Whatever It Takes. After reading the book fifth-grade teachers opened the computer lab up before school so students who arrived early could practice math problems. First-grade teachers divided students into reading groups based on their reading skill. By doing so struggling students received more time and attention. Art and music teachers did whatever it took to give students who needed it help in other areas. The staff developed a school creed that students recite every day; I will be responsible, respectful, safe and ready to learn. All third graders at TES passed the state mandated test and only three of the fifth graders had a problem passing the gateway test.

Whatever it takes……..The passing rate for their third and fifth graders is something to brag about. The number of students who don’t meet the requirements are generally much higher across the state.

Hahira Middle School in Lowndes County also was named a Georgia School of Excellence this year, not for overall test scores but for making the greatest, continuous gains. “To be great, your expectations have to be extremely high,” says Principal Kip McLeod. “Our school is about rigor, relevance and relationships.” If you work for Mr. McLeod you are expected to make your classroom environment tough and to make sure what you are teaching is relevant for life. Most of all teachers need to make sure students know they care. McLeod states, “We feel like we can build relationships with our kids.”

Through the “Pride Power” program, teachers give tickets for passing classes, putting forth an extra effort and other small accomplishments. Every nine weeks, students can cash in their points for iPods, skateboards, movie passes and other goodies. “Give a kid an iPod, and they’ll do just about anything for it,” McLeod says. Through business partners teachers receive steak dinners twice a year. The school employs Saturday school and extended hours during the week

If we could only get the kids motivated without the prizes…..however, I love the part concerning building relationships. It’s important for all students, but it is essential for those students who have chronic motivation and behaviorial issues.

So, now I put it to you....What do you think about these schools? Please share something your school or district is doing that has been successful.

Please click through and read the entire Georgia Trend article here.

(The picture with this post is the sidewalk at Eastern Elementary School in Red Oak, Georgia. I walked down that sidewalk each day of elementary school from first through seventh grades.)


June said...

Thank you for saying this! I'm a strong advocate of public schools.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for posting! This is fantastic! It really shows how important a balance is in our children's education, between the arts and sciences, between creativity and logic.

My children aren't fortunate enough to go to a school like this, so after they're done with their homework each night I sit down with them and we do some arts and crafts.

Lately I've been keeping my boys busy with Kabillion's Little Director. It's a kid-friendly online sketchbook you can find at My boys love to spend hours drawing on the site, and the pictures can even be taken a step further and turned into complete animations, with music, voiceovers and everything!

The site also allows you to buy your child's masterpiece on DVD. My boys' latest movie will make a great Christmas gift for my mom. She'll love it! I only know about this because I work with Kabillion, but even I think it's fun. I'm so happy to share this with my children!

Happy holidays everyone!