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Hornsby seeing turnaround under new leadership

Sunday, Aug 26, 2012 10:49 PM
Last updated Monday, Aug 27, 2012 3:37 AM
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When the state named W.S. Horns­by K-8 School one of the worst performing schools in the state, Principal Tonethia Beasley decided to make T-shirts for the occasion.

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Principal Tonethia Beasley observes an eighth grade math class at W.S. Hornsby K-8 School.    ZACH BOYDEN-HOLMES/STAFF
Principal Tonethia Beasley observes an eighth grade math class at W.S. Hornsby K-8 School.

She took their new label as a “priority school” and turned it into something with a positive ring to it.

“Hornsby, our PRIORITY is the students,” read the shirts, which all staff wore on the first day this year.

For the 2012-13 school year, Hornsby is one of 78 schools in Georgia given a “priority” label, the most severe designation for low achievement under the state’s new accountability system. The school has three years to improve in order to shake the status, and Beasley said reform is possible with the right attitude.

“This summer we came together as a team and created the ideal school,” she said. “I had to create a warm and nurturing atmosphere for the staff. People need to want to come to work. Now I can’t get them out of the building. We dismiss at 4:15 and at 5:30, more than half of the cars are still sitting in the parking lot.”

Hornsby received the label based on Criterion-Referenced Competency Test scores from the 2010-11 school year. Beasley took over as principal in 2011-12.

Before she arrived, the school struggled in almost all subjects and grades. In eighth-grade social studies, about 90 percent of students failed the CRCT. About 74 percent of fourth-graders failed math that same year.

Attendance was also an issue, with about 20 percent of students missing six to 15 days. The low-income school in east Augusta had all of its students on free or reduced lunch.

When Beasley arrived the next year, she said her goal was to make the school a place where students and teachers felt valued.

Special education teacher Sharhonda Cofer said that shift in mentality worked. She said past leadership at the school wasn’t necessarily harmful, but it had more of a managerial feel than the instruction-driven energy teachers found in Beasley.

Teachers began to feel energized when they became part of Beasley’s improvement plan, and morale shot up, Cofer said. Two years ago, Cofer said, dozens of teachers would have high absences on Mondays and Fridays, but now everyone wants to be in the classrooms.

“The pressure that’s put on you by labels such as ‘priority’ makes us take it a step further to get better,” said Cofer, the school’s 2012-13 teacher of the year. “If you have islands existing in schools, you drift apart. We’re not an island here.”

IN THE FIRST YEAR of Beasley’s leadership, Hornsby’s academic achievement increased sharply. Out of 30 subject and grade-level areas on the 2012 CRCT, students improved in all but seven.

Some areas had drastic improvements, including the 34 percentage point jump in fourth-grade social studies to 47.2 percent passing. The amount of students passing fourth-grade science increased 31 points to 50.9 percent, while seventh grade reading increased 17 points to 83.2 percent.

“We’re going to show people we can get it done,” Beasley said. “We already have done so much.”

In order to be removed from the “priority” list, Hornsby must show a 25 percent decrease in the number of students failing by 2015. The school also has a 25-item to-do list, including tasks such as analyzing student attendance, identifying weak students, training teachers and implementing instructional coaches.

Many of the things required by the “priority” status are changes Beasley implemented last year.

All students now receive 30-minute intervention sessions during the school day, where they get extra help with their most challenging subjects. Teachers regularly participate in professional learning, where they get intense training on strategy and teaching methods.

Later this month, Hornsby will launch after-school and Saturday tutoring for struggling students. Beasley has tried to enhance her students’ exposure to the world outside Augusta by planning more field trips and science lab activities.

VIRGINIA BRADSHAW, Richmond County’s executive director of middle schools, said the progress made in Beasley’s first year as principal gives her confidence Hornsby can shake the “priority” status.

She said Hornsby had growing pains in the mid-2000s when separate elementary and middle schools merged because of low enrollment. The move was an adjustment period for teachers and administrators, which could have contributed to some of the academic issues, Bradshaw said.

The school also is dealing with a delicate population of children living in poverty, which is not an excuse, but a challenging factor, educators say.

“Families who are struggling economically often have struggles that go along with that,” Bradshaw said. “Health care, child care, having the time to engage and improve on early literacy in the home – it can just compound. Students who come to school from that environment come to school with those stressors. It’s a balancing act of being aware and supportive of students without letting that become an excuse.”

Bernard Milligan Jr., a sixth-grade writing teacher at Hornsby, said he has seen the school transform in the past few years. He said there is more enthusiasm from teachers and a sense of urgency to improve.

He said the professional learning given to teachers has helped him improve his strategy to attend to individual students’ needs, which is reflected in the higher test scores.

Hornsby has three years to show a reasonable amount of improvement, but Milligan said he sees teachers and students going far beyond that.

“We’re moving forward,” he said. “I truly look at the school as what’s going to save the community. The crime rate is going to drop because these kids are learning, they’re learning to be productive citizens. This is an investment in the future.”


Georgia is one of several states that received a waiver from No Child Left Behind standards in 2012. To receive the waiver and implement the College and Career Ready Performance Index, the state had to designate Title 1, or low- income schools, as “priority,” “focus” and “reward” schools based on achievement.

PRIORITY SCHOOL: The worst 5 percent performing Title 1 schools in the state, a graduation rate lower than 60 percent over two years, or already has a School Improvement Grant designation.

FOCUS SCHOOL: Graduation rate lower than 60 percent over two years but not a priority school, or has the largest gaps between highest performing subgroup of students and lowest performing subgroup in one school.

REWARD SCHOOL: Highest performing or highest progress of Title 1 schools.

ALERT SCHOOL: Includes Title 1 and non-Title 1 schools. Can be identified by having a graduation rate, subgroup achievement or achievement in one subject area below three standard deviations from the state’s subgroup average.

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corgimom 08/27/12 - 05:34 am
The RCBOE needs to be

The RCBOE needs to be recalled! How can they allow that kind of performance? Ms. Beasley is to be commended, God bless her.

Little Lamb
Little Lamb 08/27/12 - 08:04 am

They put the resources that used to be in the Reward schools into the Priority schools. You just shuffle things around, and nothing really changes. The Priority schools move up and the Reward schools move down.

jahir 08/27/12 - 08:23 am
Is she the principal or a teacher?

I was surprised with the relaxed look she is sporting... sandals with toes out. Sorry teachers,(principals) we need to correct this..... now. It should matter for you to dress for success and show an example to our kids how an administrator should dress...... They are watching. Academics can continue to be achieved but lets dress the part also.

Eager for Change
Eager for Change 08/27/12 - 09:13 am
Am I missing something?

Did anyone else notice that there is no mention in the article of the relationship between child success and parent involvement? With decades and hundreds of millions of dollars in Title I monies, superintendent after superintendent with wonderful goals for a "world class school system" (I believe those were Dr. Roberson's words), and decades of worsening test scores and graduation rates, how can that link be ignored by the administration and Board? There won't be improvement until the school system abandons the expensive big-ticket equipment and projects and tackles the elephant in the room. Until the schools change the attitudes of parents who churn out kids and then let them roam the streets or let the grandma try to raise them, there will be little change in the schools --- except for those few kids who find an adult mentor who inspires them. Throw away the glitter and concentrate on that which will make the most difference. If that doesn't happen, Dr. Roberson and his team will have to be ever more creative with excuses for why performance has not changed.

griff6035 08/27/12 - 10:49 am

The Pictures tell the story, the students look scared and uninspired.

single parent
single parent 08/27/12 - 11:01 am
@ Jahir "I was surprised with

@ Jahir
"I was surprised with the relaxed look she is sporting... sandals with toes out. Sorry teachers,(principals) we need to correct this..... now. It should matter for you to dress for success and show an example to our kids how an administrator should dress......"
You are aware that kids these days beat the crap out of eachother over "GEAR"? What does the way the Principal is dressed have to do with the price of milk? So you are going to drop a kids self esteem before they even hit the world telling them to dress for success and they cannot read above a 2nd grade level @ 18 or afford todress for success?
I totally agree with the Parents taking the other half of the ball or even 80% of the ball. 3000 kids in a school and 30 parents show up for PTA or parents night and those same parents that do not participate always have the biggest complaints! Not only should the parents hold a card in the outcome, what about the person getting the education? 2 or 20 you have to have some responsibility for your own actions and take pride in your end result.
The thing with educators these days is the lack of passion and I quite frankly do not blame them. Why should I care about a place where I have to carry a loaded weapon just to teach school or fear being attacked and cannot not defend( meaning if a child stabs me I cannot even touch them) myself be it the child 2 or 20?
How many parents reading this see the kids walking in the middle of street and refuse to get out of it? It is the times of non-hometraining, so those typing need to make sure your child is not the problem before jumping into the mix. They need to be taught as an example : Little Wayne is for entertainment value only and I use the word entertainment very loosely. As an black ex professional musicianand 3 various degrees, I can say that with my head held high.

lynn7044 08/28/12 - 12:15 pm
People are so stuck

People are so stuck on a teacher looking laid back when you got parents coming to the school looking like they just got out of bed. Here are staffs members who is commented to educating our students. I didn't read any where that people were coming to the school to volunteer and make a different. If test score are coming up and students are learning that's the most important thing first.
When you have 4 generation of kids having kids, then you have to start with them getting the foundation.
Keep doing what you doing, educate our kids at all cost.

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