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Elementary schools ‘reap’ rewards

Published 8:20am Thursday, October 24, 2013

GATESVILLE – Rare company….that’s where a trio of Gates County elementary schools find themselves on the heels of a recent report from the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction.

Of the 174 schools statewide to gain recognition of Title I Reward Schools for the 2013-14 school year, three are in Gates County – Buckland Elementary, T.S. Cooper Elementary, and Gatesville Elementary.

Buckland and T.S. Cooper were both recognized as “highest-performing school” meaning they are among the top 10 percent of Title I schools statewide that have the highest absolute performance over a number of years for the “all students” group and for all subgroups on the statewide assessments.

Gatesville Elementary is ranked as a “high-progress school” which means it’s among the 10 percent of Title I schools in the state that are making the most progress in improving the performance of the “all students” group over a number of years on the statewide assessments.

Of the statewide honorees, only 10 are in the northeastern part of North Carolina. The other seven are Andrews Elementary and Jamesville Elementary in Martin County; P.W. Moore Elementary in Elizabeth City; Jarvisburg Elementary and W.T. Griggs Elementary in Currituck County; and Pines Elementary in Washington County.

“There are around 175 schools in the state of North Carolina that are listed as reward schools. All of the elementary schools in GatesCounty are School-wide Title I schools.   It is exciting that the hard work of our elementary teachers has paid off to have all of our Title I Schools meet the criteria for Reward Schools.  I believe that this demonstrates the high expectations we have across our county in all our schools and a unity that other districts are still striving to achieve,” said Gail Hawkins, Exceptional Children/Title I Director for Gates County Public Schools.

GCPS Superintendent Dr. Barry Williams said the “bottom line” on the lofty recognition awarded to three schools in his district shows that the students are showing consistent progress or performance on the End of Grade testing.

So, how did GCPS reach this level of excellence?

“Our incredible teachers who build relationships of respect with their students,” Williams noted. “No significant learning occurs without a significant positive relationship. Teachers insist on high-quality work and offer support.”

Through his personal evaluations of the county’s three elementary schools, Williams said he has observed teachers call every student by name; teachers answering all questions; teaching speaking and teaching respect, responsibility and accountability; teachers always acknowledging students (just to say “hi”) when passing them inside the building; teachers helping students upon request.

“Gates County educators create a collaborative culture. When students are learning something new, all elementary teachers make sure it’s especially important that it happen in a supportive context,” Williams said.

Another key, according to Williams, is that each teacher will diagnose each student’s resources.

“School success requires a huge amount of resources that are limited due to state funding,” Williams said.

GCPS teachers begin the path to success by meticulously assessing each student in several areas, to include financial assistance, emotional assistance – self-control, especially under stress, mental ability – acquired reading, writing, and computing skills, physical health, support systems – family, friends, and support available in times of need, who they see as positive role models, and a student’s knowledge of unspoken rules.

“Our teachers are aware that many students identified as ‘at risk’ lack some of these outside resources,” Williams stated. “Interventions that require students to draw on resources they do not possess make it extremely challenging, however our teachers do an incredible job of hurdling these obstacles.”

The end result, Williams says, is that every student has the opportunity to be successful and every student will be successful through the hard work, late nights, planning and commitment of, “our wonderful elementary teachers.”

All teachers teach the hidden rules of school. Actions and attitudes that help a child grow and achieve are sometimes counterproductive in school. Without denigrating survival skills, our professionals teach students how to behave in school.

Williams said the universal design of lessons are incorporated by ensuring that all students are engaged by a variety of instructional strategies, with a mix of direct instruction, reading relevant material, audiovisual aids, demonstration, discussion, hands-on experience, checking for understanding, and peer reteaching.

He added that teachers monitor academic progress and plan interventions.

“We have a school-wide process of using interim assessments and rubrics to measure progress, zeroing in on areas where students need help, and choosing instructional strategies that have the biggest payoff,” stated Williams. “Our teachers translate the concrete into the abstract.  According to our teachers, the best way to help students make this important leap is to give them mental models – stories, analogies, or visual representations.”

Another key to success is that GatesCounty elementary teachers teach students how to ask questions.

“Questions are a Socratic tool to gain access to information and knowing how to ask questions yields a huge payoff in achievement,” Williams said. “Questions at different Bloom’s levels and involving all students in answering during classroom discussions are strategies to make sure the instructional delivery is understood.

“Our educators also forge relationships with parents,” he added. “Teachers understand it is essential to create a welcoming atmosphere at school for parents.”

GCPS teachers also provide cooperative learning by allowing students to work in groups of 2-5 on structured activities that require students to experience different roles, become positively interdependent, get formative feedback from the teacher, and be accountable for results.

“A great teacher has to think from the learner’s perspective, and to consider what it takes to understand a concept/idea for a person seeing it for the first time. Gates County teachers diagnose and evaluate their teaching on this learner’s perspective,” Williams concluded.

Assessment data from the 2011-12 school year and the two previous years was used to determine which Title I schools were among the top 10 percent.

Title I is the largest federal educational funding program for schools. Its aim is to help students who are behind academically or at risk of falling behind. School funding is based on the number of low-income children, generally those eligible for the free and reduced price lunch program.

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