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5 schools use different tools to help pupils
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Area highest-progress schools

Gainesville City Schools

Fair Street International Baccalaureate World School
Gainesville Exploration Academy
New Holland Core Knowledge Academy

Hall County Schools

Sugar Hill Elementary School
West Hall Middle School

Click here to see the full list of schools

Five area schools have landed on a list for highest progress in the state, and each of them has used a different strategy to get there.

The state Department of Education released the lists of high-performing and high-progress Title I schools on Tuesday.

While no local schools were on the high-performing list, the high-progress list included Fair Street International Baccalaureate World School, Gainesville Exploration Academy and New Holland Core Knowledge Academy in the Gainesville system and Sugar Hill Elementary and West Hall Middle School in the Hall system.

These schools are in the top 10 percent of schools with Title I funding whose students have shown improvement on standardized tests over the past three years.

West Hall Middle School Principal Karla Swafford said the Title I funding, which is awarded to schools with high percentages of students from low-income families, is part of what’s allowed her school to make progress.

She said the funds allow for extra instruction time, including around 12 days of Saturday school per year.

“It’s our Title I funds that enable us to run it a little bit longer,” she said.

The funds also allow for intervention teachers who specialize in helping students who are getting behind.

Pam Wood, principal at New Holland, said treating children as individuals is key.

“If a child comes to us with a deficit, with a gap in their learning, we are very diagnostic in filling that gap,” she said. “If we don’t fill the gaps now, they’re going to be struggling forevermore.”

When a child needs extra help, she said, teachers make a plan that is specific to that child’s needs.

Gainesville Exploration Academy Principal Renee Boatright said there are a number of processes in place both to identify kids who need extra help and to provide it to them.

“We’re looking for the little extra tutoring moments, those little extra interventions we can do,” she said.

Boatright said the school uses individual tutoring, small groups and alternative teaching methods to help students who are struggling. She said a welcoming environment also makes a difference.

“Making sure the child feels comfortable with the teacher, so if the child is having difficulty with something, they feel risk-free to say, ‘I really don’t understand,’” she said.

Like Wood, Boatright said it’s also important to assess the needs of each child individually. Some may need to be taught the same concept again, while others may benefit more from enrichment activities, she said.

At Sugar Hill, Principal Beth Skarda said enrichment plays an important role in progress, allowing for improvement in both struggling kids and those who are already doing well.

“We try to not always have a remediation approach,” she said. “We try to enrich as well. We have both enrichment and tutoring before and after school. ... We want everybody, regardless of their academic level, to be able to move forward and to be engaged and excited to come to school.”

Will Campbell, principal at Fair Street, said the most important factor in growth is good teachers.

“The research shows that the way to get progress and the way you can close the achievement gap is making sure there are effective teachers in the classroom,” he said.

At Fair Street, this entails a lot of work: classroom visits by administrators, solicitation of feedback, providing teachers with the tools they need, professional development and having teachers collaborate based on their individual strengths.

Wanda Creel, superintendent of Gainesville schools, said it takes a lot of people to help students progress.

“I think a lot of it has to do with the collaboration,” she said. “The teachers are working together. ... Teachers, leaders, parents and students have all worked hard.”

She said she’s not disappointed that no Gainesville schools were on the list of highest-performing schools in the state.

“If you look at the breakdown of the highest-performing, you’ll see a different situation than in Gainesville schools,” she said.

Will Schofield, superintendent of Hall schools, said the highest-performing schools often have similar demographics.

“There’s a good correlation between the socioeconomic status of students who walk through the door and who gets on the high-performing list,” he said.

Creel said that, while three Gainesville schools made the highest-progress list, all of the schools in the district are using similar strategies to assist with growth.

“We would be considered one of the highest-growth districts,” she said. “What we look at is skills that students have at the beginning of the year and where we’ve taken them by the end of the year. ... That’s where our strategies are right now.”

Schofield said the data don’t provide the district with any information it didn’t have already.

“We’ve had this data for a year and a half,” he said. “We test trends more than snapshots, and this is a snapshot.”

Still, he said he’s proud of the students and staff at the schools who made the list.

Campbell agreed that the data aren’t new, but he said being placed on the list is still a big honor for Fair Street.

“When I shared the info with my staff yesterday ... I turned on Kool and the Gang’s celebration song and reported it to our teachers, and they cheered,” he said. “It is just a shot in the arm to know that, yes, you were doing the right work. ... It’s a very affirming award.”

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