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Two schools in Richmond County and one in Columbia County on Tuesday received the highest academic designation by the Georgia Department of Education given to schools serving children from low-income families.
Jenkins White Elementary Charter and Butler High schools in Richmond County were named Reward Schools for being among the 10 percent of Title I schools in the state making the most progress over three years on state assessments.
Westmont Elementary in Martinez was among the 5 percent of Title I schools in Georgia with the highest absolute performance over three years, the second way to qualify as a Reward School.
“I’m overjoyed because it says we’re going in the right direction,” Jenkins White Principal Earl Kelton said. “It doesn’t mean we’re there, but it means we’re making progress and that’s a really big step.”
The state department on Tuesday also identified 45 Alert Schools, a designation given to both Title I and non-Title I schools performing below the state average in graduation rate, subgroup achievement or in a tested subject.
Six Richmond County schools, three more than last year, were labeled Alert Schools. Diamond Lakes Elementary, Spirit Creek Middle, Bayvale Elementary, Sego Middle and Blythe Elementary all had achievement in the “white” subgroup below the state’s average for that demographic. Meadowbrook Elementary received the label for having its English Language Arts achievement fall below the state’s average.
Georgia began using these performance designations in 2012, when the state department received a waiver from No Child Left Behind provisions.
The Reward title replaced Distinguished Schools as the highest designation for Title I, or low income, schools. The department also developed Priority and Focus titles to identify Title I schools that are the lowest performing in the state or those with the largest achievement gaps.
In Richmond County, four schools were labeled as Priority and five as Focus, and each have three-year designations. Columbia County has two Focus Schools, also with a three-year timetable to improve.
Butler Principal Greg Thompson said the Reward status gives a nod to the hard work his faculty and students have put into raising achievement over the last three years.
Butler increased the school day by 30 minutes last year to focus on writing and End of Course Test preparations. Teachers receive professional learning once a week and have increased the focus on collaboration to improve lesson planning. They also use data to analyze students’ weak points and spend time in the day on remediation.
“All the hard work we’ve put in over the years is starting to pay off,” Thompson said. “It feels really good.”