The Georgia Department of Education named five Richmond County schools Reward Schools on Wednesday, the highest academic designation given to schools serving underprivileged students.
Cross Creek High, Hephzibah High and Willis Foreman Elementary schools were given the title for being among the 10 percent of
Title I schools in Georgia making the most progress in improving the achievement of all students over three years on statewide assessments.
C.T. Walker Traditional Magnet and A.R. Johnson Health Science and Engineering Magnet schools were among the 5 percent of Title I schools with the highest absolute performance over three years.
“These schools are shining examples of what we can achieve in public education in Georgia,” state School Superintendent John Barge said in a news release. “I want to take what’s working at our Reward Schools and replicate that in every school in the state. These are the schools making education work for all Georgians.”
Brenda Cherokee Taylor, the principal at Willis Foreman, said her school has focused on instruction since she took leadership three years ago.
Every morning, teachers break students into small groups for 45-minute intervention sessions where they receive help on whatever reading or math concept they are having trouble grasping.
Teachers also take advantage of professional learning offered by the district, Cherokee Taylor said.
“I’m just so proud of my students and my staff,” she said. “We have dedicated, committed teachers, and our vision and mission is excellence.”
The state began identifying schools with new performance designations for accountability purposes this year when Georgia received a waiver from No Child Left Behind provisions.
Priority and Focus titles replaced the Needs Improvement designation under NCLB, and the Reward replaced Distinguished Schools.
Priority schools are the bottom 5 percent – the lowest performing schools in the state – and Focus schools are those with the largest achievement gaps among student subgroups.
The state also created an Alert designation, the only one to include non-Title I schools, that applies to schools with low graduation rates or low achievement in a certain subject or subgroup.
Cross Creek Principal Jason Moore said dedication from his teachers and students has helped create steady progress over the past several years.
Three years ago, the campus adopted five priorities to live by: standards-based instruction, collaboration with teachers, good assessments, good communication and student support.
On furlough days, Moore said teachers volunteer to tutor students and also come in unpaid to assist with Saturday school.
The result has been drastic increases in U.S. History and consistent progress in subjects such as math, science and American literature.
“That’s what it takes, going above and beyond,” Moore said. “I’m so proud of the teachers and the students and the whole community.”