Three Richmond County high schools struggling with low student achievement and high absenteeism are using $1 million School Improvement Grants to usher in positive change. At Glenn Hills, teachers are mentoring at-risk students. T.W. Josey has hired a school counselor and extended instructional time, and Lucy C. Laney has offered training for teachers and invested in technology.
When Tonia Mason was called in to lead Lucy C. Laney High School as interim principal in November, she saw a challenging road ahead.
Superintendent Frank Roberson selected Mason to replace the previous principal at midyear and implement a $1 million School Improvement Grant aimed at transforming Laney from a struggling school to a body of high-achieving students.
What Mason walked in on was a school that had not met federal Adequate Yearly Progress standards since 2004, with only 63 percent of seniors graduating and 84 percent of students receiving free or reduced lunch.
"I was shocked to see these numbers on paper from the school that I graduated from 30 years ago," Mason said. "Laney needed some direction. Teachers were overwhelmed. There was no sense of focus."
When teachers and students saw the intense changes required by the grant, a new sense of urgency rang through Laney, Mason said. Administrators evaluated teachers and replaced 50 percent of those with the lowest evaluations.
The remaining teachers attended professional learning sessions two to three times a month to develop better curriculum and strategies for their students, and the school began calling families for parent nights on campus.
In her evaluation, Mason found out teachers were not keeping track of tardies, so the principal enforced a strict tardy policy that sent a jolt of attention to students.
"There was no sense of urgency to get to Laney on time before," Mason said.
The grant also provided more than $200,000 in technology upgrades, which put Promethean Activboards in every classroom, purchased math software and brought more than 50 new laptops to the school.
Teachers waived the salary incentives built into the grant so the school could purchase as many resources as possible.
Schedules grew to have an extra class period for students and two more planning periods for teachers.
Though the school did not improve in any subject on the Georgia High School Graduation Test in the 2010-11 school year, Laney met enough requirements of the grant to qualify for the second year of funding, bringing in $828,000.
Next school year, the new sense of direction will help push Laney into the school Mason said she knows it can be.
"I see Laney as a school of excellence," she said. "I see Laney as our graduation rate being above 80 percent, in the 90 percentile. I see many of our students going on to college. ... I see the stigma that's been placed on Laney removed. I see Laney as a being a world-class institution."