THOMSON, Ga. -- Reading and math scores of J.A. Maxwell Elementary School pupils are steadily increasing.
But that's not the sole reason the McDuffie County school was the only one in the area recently named a Georgia School of Excellence.
The recognition has more to do with the staff's dedication to its pupils, officials said.
The motto of faculty and staff members is: "We strongly believe that we impact the future."
The school, commonly called "Max," was one of 19 in Georgia and the only one in the Augusta area chosen this month as a School of Excellence by the state Department of Education.
When you walk into the 22-year-old school, you're greeted by a 65-foot mural depicting a colorful safari scene including the school mascot, Max The Lion.
The mural was painted by Principal Hanna Fowler, Assistant Principal Pat Biggerstaff, the custodial staff and several teachers during a day off.
Another mural was painted in the school's lunchroom.
That's an example of how the school staff pulls together to help the 457 pupils, Mrs. Biggerstaff said.
Another example is the school's reading program.
"Each student has to read at least three hours a day," Mrs. Biggerstaff said. "And we have block scheduling, which allows teachers to teach in small groups so the students can have personal attention. Our schoolwide discipline plan is another reason we were recognized. It drives everything we do.
"The school discipline program is unique because we took bits and pieces of character education programs and molded our own discipline program and we have committees that are constantly polishing that plan and making it better each year," she said. "Everybody from the custodial staff to the lunchroom workers are all involved in the training of this schoolwide discipline plan. So everybody knows what's expected and know what the consequences are."
The school has high goals it hopes will help in securing a state Pay for Performance grant.
Improving pupil achievement in comprehension, vocabulary, phonics, math and problem solving.
Enhancing pupil learning by increasing instructional opportunities and utilizing technology.
Creating a school climate that enhances positive relations and is conducive to learning.
Increasing parent awareness and participation in school functions.
The school plans to meet the goals by assessing what's working and improving on weak points, Mrs. Fowler said.
"We have been having good, steady progress the last three years," Mrs. Fowler said. "We are continuing to do what we are doing, ensuring that all students' needs -- especially in reading -- are met. The staff is so dedicated and they work closely together at each grade level."
Pupils and staff members were elated to be recognized for their hard work, she said.
"One of my goals when I went to administration was to show that children from low socio-economic environments can learn and to quit making excusing for home life," she said. "This was the icing on the cake -- to show it can be done. And we're doing it."
ReachFaith Johnson at (706) 823-3765 firstname.lastname@example.org.