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Laney High is the school of choice for some Richmond County students

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After Cassandra Robinson moved to Hephzibah from Texas this summer, she enrolled her two sons at Hephzibah High School for their senior year.

A. Brian Merry Elementary School pupils have made AYP every year since 2004.   RAINIER EHRHARDT/STAFF
A. Brian Merry Elementary School pupils have made AYP every year since 2004.

On their first day, it took the twin brothers a few hours to figure out it wasn’t going to work.

“At Hephzibah, it didn’t make (adequate yearly progress), the curriculum wasn’t strong and the school in general lacked discipline,” Robinson said.

Although she lives miles away from Augusta’s Laney-Walker neighborhood, Robinson was able to transfer her sons to Lucy C. Laney High School because of an option created under the 2001 No Child Left Behind Act.

The school choice program allows students at struggling schools to switch to better-performing schools no matter where they live in the district.

This school year, 318 Richmond County students chose to switch schools – out of the 10,333 who were given the option.

Reasons why a student might take advantage of school choice vary, according to schools spokesman Louis Svehla. It could be because parents think a school is not serving them well or it could be solely because of convenience.

Traditionally, only a small number of students use the provision to switch schools. Last year, 337 out of the 11,130 eligible students transferred.

“Sometimes a change in environment is good. Sometimes, depending on how that child learns, it can be very disruptive,” Svehla said. “But it’s a case-by-case basis.”

For Robinson’s sons, the decision was based on atmosphere. On the first day, they said they easily could pick out which students were in gangs.

They saw a female student curse at the principal in the cafeteria, and they didn’t feel enthusiasm from teachers.

Svehla said each school in the district has its own issues and that problems with gangs or violence are not unique to one particular campus.

But when Robinson looked at her options, Laney was the only alternative the district provided because it’s the only Richmond County comprehensive high school not in Needs Improvement status.

Although Laney has not met AYP benchmarks in seven years, it has received almost $2 million since 2010 from a federal School Improvement Grant, which made the school replace half its teachers, invest in technology and enact better instruction strategies under the so-called “Turnaround Model,” the most sweeping of the options the grant allows.

That model also allows a school to “reset” its AYP status, and it takes two years of not reaching the benchmarks to land on the Needs Improvement list.

T.W. Josey and Glenn Hills high schools also are in the second year of that grant, but they chose the less-intrusive “Transformational Model,” which doesn’t require such sweeping staff changes and, therefore, does not reset a school’s AYP status.

As the only option for high-schoolers wanting to switch schools, 105 students transferred to Laney using school choice this year, according to Principal Tonia Mason.

After her sons’ first day at Hephzibah, Robinson toured Laney, met the principal and teachers and enrolled her students for the next day.

“Even though Laney didn’t make AYP, it’s obvious they’re on the right track,” Robinson said.

However, when students choose to leave a school, it’s not always about labels.

Rollins Elementary School Principal Cheri Ogden said that of the 11 pupils who transferred to Rollins this year, she heard some families say the location was better for them, while others just heard good things about the school.

When schools habitually fail to make AYP and have to offer their students the option to move out, it may create an inaccurate image about the school’s true quality, Ogden said.

“To say a school did or didn’t make AYP doesn’t explain enough,” Ogden said.

“I hate that schools get labeled that way. I hate there’s this perception that Rollins is a better school than another school when, really, we meet different needs.”

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Craig Spinks
Craig Spinks 09/02/11 - 01:23 am
Laney High School has a

Laney High School has a storied tradition. Its namesake, Miss Lucy Craft Laney who is buried on the school grounds, was a foremost leader in efforts to provide Blacks educational opportunities in an era when such opportunities were denied them in law and in fact. Too bad so many young folks, particularly Black and poor ones, are eager to squander the educational opportunities for which Miss Laney and other local leaders paid such high prices.

avidreader 09/02/11 - 05:47 am
Tonia Mason is an inspiring

Tonia Mason is an inspiring educator. It's a tough job to be in charge of any school where the economically disadvantaged dominate the rolls. Many of these kids will have high absenteeism and experience very little academic support at home. However, Dr. Mason is definately up to the task. I'm rooting for you, Dr. M.

battlecataclysmic 09/02/11 - 08:23 am
No offense, but if one can

No offense, but if one can attend a school for only a few hours of one day, then proceed to cite "adequate yearly progress" and "curriculum strength" as the reasons why they decided to leave, I wouldn't recommend placing much weight on said person's understanding of either. Why? Because adequate yearly progress and curriculum strength are both criteria that each take more than a few hours of one day to remotely perceive. Hephzibah High School is a great school with a bad label. And that bad label is built majorly on numbers that are misinterpreted and that do not tell the whole story. If there is any lack of enthusiasm at Hephzibah high School, it's because of slanted articles, such as this one, that scrutinize one school---HHS in this case--- as candidly as possible, and another school--- Laney in this case--- remotely, thus creating the impression that one is greater than the other.

iLove 09/02/11 - 09:51 am
Great Job Dr. Mason and ALL

Great Job Dr. Mason and ALL STAFF!

littlecoach 09/02/11 - 11:21 am
i agree battlecat . . .you

i agree battlecat . . .you cannot throw HHS under the bus . . . . also LCL uses this same "ap academy" to recruit kids to play sports for them . . .what a crock . . .the overall goal to better educate our children should be in the forefront . . .

Ibram 09/02/11 - 01:20 pm
Maybe I'm missing something

Maybe I'm missing something here...two transfer students spent a few hours at a high school and came away with knowledge of "AYP" and "curriculum strength"? They must be pretty quick studies! How can someone determine a school's effectiveness after a couple of hours?That is as ridiculous as teachers immediately determining a student's grade after one class period.
Regarding AYP, neither school achieved their goal, and Laney has been on the Needs Improvement list longer than Hephzibah...It looks more like Laney is not necessarily a choice but a lack of options...

Craig Spinks
Craig Spinks 09/02/11 - 04:29 pm
Friends in RC, Many of your

Friends in RC,

Many of your public schools are failing to make AYP based upon unacceptably low performance levels on extremely easily-graded, state-normed standardized tests.

Nationally-normed standardized test results reveal woeful deficiencies in most academic areas for most RCSS students.

You ought to be mad as hell and resolving not to allow your school system to graduate kids who are unprepared for productive, responsible adulthoods.

Dr. Craig Spinks
Georgians for Educational Excellence

Animallvr 09/02/11 - 08:09 pm
I agree Dr. Craig Spinks.

I agree Dr. Craig Spinks. Students who fail should not go to the next grade unless he or she has the skills necessary. Too bad teachers are paperworked and then still denied to hold a majority of students back when it is obviously needed.
I know of students who are passed on and on that still can not read on an elemantry school level.

Patty-P 09/02/11 - 08:42 pm
Agree with Dr. Spinks. Kids

Agree with Dr. Spinks. Kids are being passed on to make the numbers look good.

prov227 05/03/14 - 01:27 pm
Elementary ...

my dear Watson.

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