Mike Klein Online

Thirty-Five Georgia Public Schools That Make “No Excuses”

This article was written for the Georgia Public Policy Foundation.

Telfair County sits in the Georgia Bermuda Triangle, about equidistant between Macon, Columbus and Savannah but close to none and without any real economy.   Unemployment is several percentage points higher than the statewide level, per capita wages are near the bottom and 100% of Telfair County High School’s students qualify for reduced or free lunch based on federal government poverty rates.

Telfair County High School is also one of just two high schools statewide to receive this year’s Georgia Public Policy Foundation designation as a 2010 No Excuses School.  Each year The Foundation recognizes schools whose low-income students achieve significantly higher academic scores than statistical projections would forecast based on the statewide relationship between poverty and test scores.

No Excuses Schools share these characteristics:  All have student poverty rates 51% or higher, all must achieve Adequate Year Progress (AYP) which is a federal standard created by the No Child Left Behind law and all must have a poverty indicator of 2 or above.   In every No Excuses School you will find highly motivated teachers and students, high expectations and in several, you will also find very involved parents groups.  These characteristics pave a pathway to success.

This year’s Report Card for Parents ranks 1,219 elementary schools based on third grade test scores, 1,212 elementary schools based on fifth grade test scores, 507 middle schools based on eighth grade test scores and 357 high schools based on End-Of-Course-Test scores and graduation rates.  This year 35 schools earned “No Excuses Schools” designations. The complete list is located on the Georgia Public Policy Foundation website.

The Foundation discussed success with principals at Telfair and three elementary schools.  This article also highlights Lake City Elementary in Clayton County, Northside Elementary in Warner Robins and the International Studies Elementary Charter in Albany.   Each section begins with a brief statistical outline, followed by remarks from the principals.

Telfair County High School

Location:  McRae, Georgia

Students:  422

Poverty Rate:  100%

End of Course Test Pass Rate:  71%

Graduation Rate within Four Years: 79%

College Placement Rate:  61%

School & District Spending Per Pupil:  $10,939

Telfair County High School – like every No Excuses School – does not allow economic factors beyond its control to influence performance inside its classrooms.   Overall, Telfair is ranked 128th statewide among 1,212 elementary, 507 middle and 357 high schools.

Telfair Principal Murphy Ownbey is a career-long educator with 38 years in Georgia public schools.  The Foundation spoke with Ownbey about why Telfair has been able to create success in an environment that might suggest success would be hard to achieve.   He emphasized his teachers and technology.

“If you’ve got teachers who don’t care, who just come to work and they don’t know what the student is doing after school, then you’re not going to win with this type of student,” Ownbey said.  “They’ve got to see that you want to be involved.  We are dealing with a lot of single parent families.  A lot of grandparents raise kids and we still have (students) who are the first graduates in their families ever.”

Three years ago Telfair began to focus on major technology upgrades.  Today every academic classroom has an interactive smart board and the ratio of school computers is now one computer to every 1.4 students.   Ownbey said, “Anytime I am allowed to buy anything the first thing I do is buy classroom technology.”  Telfair aggressively seeks external grants to provide technology upgrade funds that would not be possible if the school had to use its public funds.

Ownbey said Telfair County has few employment opportunities beyond a prison and one manufacturer.

“We are working very hard on getting our kids to graduate, getting our kids into some kind of career.  The problem you have here is, if you’re not going to pack groceries or flip hamburgers, there is nothing here for you.  We’re a community that doesn’t have a hospital.  We have very few doctors.  It’s amazing that we do as well as we do.  I can tell you, this group of students and teachers would match up against anybody.  Most people would just give up.  They don’t.  They keep fighting.  They want to do better.”

Lake City Elementary School

Location:  Clayton County, Georgia

Students:  507

Poverty Rate:  91%

Met or Exceeded CRCT Math and Reading Standards:  96%

Exceeded CRCT Math and Reading Standards:  28%

School & District Spending Per Pupil: $10,251

When some 250 third, fourth and fifth graders and their teachers gathered in the Lake City cafeteria this past Friday morning they thought it might just be a final day of school event.   The cheering began when Foundation President Kelly McCutchen told students and faculty that Lake City had been designated as a Foundation 2010 “No Excuses School.”

Principal Kelly Veal followed McCutchen to the podium:  “Our mission here at Lake City is to strive to our maximum academic and social potential every single day.  With our hard work we have done that.  We have always raised the bar to reach the top and we will keep raising the bar higher to get even further up the mountain.  Kids, faculty members, this is for you!  All right!”

Lake City Elementary is located in prosperity’s shadow.  Atlanta’s international airport, the economic engine of the south, is a short drive away.  But prosperity has never found much of Clayton County.  Unemployment is 12.1%.   That is almost two percentage points higher than the statewide percentage.  Per capita income is less than $20,000 per year.

Lake City’s student population is 39% Hispanic, 38% African-American, 16% Asian and the remainder Caucasian.  Nine-among-ten students come from families in poverty.  Fewer than 50% of Lake City’s parents have high school diplomas.  Students speak six primary dialects as first languages, including several Asian based languages.

Janice Davis is the Clayton County area superintendent.  She cites engaging parents among the district’s most significant challenges.  “Trying to get them into the schools, involved in their children’s education, doing whatever they can do to support the school.  I don’t think it’s because they don’t want to.   Many times they don’t have the time or they don’t know how.”

“I know they can learn and we push them,” Veal said about Lake City’s 500 students.  “I always use the analogy; it’s like a high jumper or pole vaulter.  If you never raise that bar you’re never going to break records.  So we keep raising the bar and challenging them to succeed.”

Northside Elementary School

Location:  Warner Robins, Georgia

Students:  481

Poverty Rate:  72%

Met or Exceeded CRCT Math and Reading Standards:  100%

Exceeded CRCT Math and Reading Standards:  43%

School & District Spending Per Pupil: $9,941

“Building our future one child at a time,” said Principal Jodi Clark when she was asked what makes Northside Elementary School in Houston County successful.  “Everyone has bought into that.   We have one rule and that rule is respect.  That permeates through everything.  We try not to be punitive.  Our whole faculty has bought into being respectful and showing respect.

“Our teachers make sure they meet the students where they are, and then move them to where they need to be.  They take the whole child.  From when they meet, they develop a relationship of respect so that child knows that they have somebody on their side. “

Clark said her greatest challenges are twofold.  Inside the school, it’s replacing personnel who are being lost to budget reductions that affect all Georgia public schools.  “We are losing some people in key positions who bring more to the position that just what it calls for,” Clark said.  “Our media clerk and our student support team (members), we are losing those people.“

Her greatest challenge outside the school is helping needy Northside Elementary families.  “A lot of our families are hit first and hit hardest.  We’ve gone so far as helping families meet their needs at home (such as) glasses and clothes to wear.  Everybody helps at Christmas.  We do it all year long.”

The bottom line: “Our teachers make sure each child is successful and they take it one child at a time.”

International Studies Elementary Charter School

Location:  Albany, Georgia

Students:  475

Poverty Rate:  86%

Met or Exceeded CRCT Math and Reading Standards:  100%

Exceeded CRCT Math and Reading Standards:  21.5%

School & District Spending Per Pupil: $9,286

International Studies Elementary is one of just three charters designated as 2010 No Excuses Schools by The Foundation.  The others are KIPP West Atlanta Young Scholars Academy and Gainesville Exploration Academy.   International was granted its conversion charter in July 2005 and it received designation as an international studies school in February 2007.

International draws students from throughout Dougherty County and Principal Zeda George points with pride to the school’s 99.5% attendance rate.  “We’re always willing to go the extra mile no matter what that looks like, coming in early, staying late, Saturday school or whatever it takes,” George said.  “Our parents know that.  Our community knows that.  All our stakeholders are aware.”

International has the largest Hispanic student percentage population among Dougherty County schools and, therefore, it has the largest English as a second language population.  “A lot of our parents don’t speak anything but Spanish,” George said.  “So we have to do more that way.  Everything we send home in English, we also send home in Spanish.”

George pointed to the faculty emphasis on data as a key factor in student success.  “We keep data before us at all times.  How many are meeting standards?  How many are exceeding?  What can we do to push children?  Who looks like they might fail?  Based on that data we implement Saturday school so if a student is not making it in five days, they can make it in seven days.”

International Studies elementary families are approximately 65% African-American with the remainder Hispanic and Caucasian.   They are a mix of blue and white collar, and also military because the school draws students whose parents are assigned to the U.S. Marine Corps Logistics Base.

The bottom line:  “We’re competing against ourselves,” George said.  “How can we do better?”

Mike Klein is Editor at the Georgia Public Policy Foundation, www.gppf.org.

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May 30, 2010 - Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , ,

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