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Gainesville Middle School off list of struggling schools
Educators giving personal attention to students helped them improve
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Assistant principals Donna Allen, Audrey Simmons and Dr. Michael Zinn discuss items on the agenda for the upcoming school year at Gainesville Middle School on Wednesday, July 15, 2015. The Georgia Department of Education released the list of federal Focus and Priority Schools last week, and Gainesville Middle School was absent from the list for the first time in three years. - photo by Erin O. Smith

Gainesville Middle School leaders spent the past three years focused on helping the lowest-achieving students improve, and the efforts paid off.

The Georgia Department of Education last week released a list of struggling schools, and Gainesville Middle was absent for the first time in three years.

The improvement was a result of multiple efforts, including giving more personalized help to struggling students, school leaders said.

“We had a really strong focus on standard vocabulary that we did during an enhancement time,” said Donna Allen, sixth-grade assistant principal. “Each content area focused on standards-based vocabulary, and that was a way of helping students as they prepared for a test.”

The school had previously been named as a Focus School, which means it had a large gap between low-performing students and average students.

Specifically, the school in 2012 had a large disparity between students with disabilities, its lowest-scoring subgroup, and its Asian students, its highest-scoring sub group.

Allen said being on the Focus list allowed the school to prioritize its students, providing more assistance to remedial students outside the classroom.

“We were able to give them additional resources through a program titled Read 180, and we also created a science literacy class for those students who were prioritized,” she said.

Read 180 includes instruction, assessment and development to help children read better.

Allen said the school also created a mentor program for struggling students called Success Cafe, which rewarded academic achievements.

“The students who were identified were assigned teacher mentors,” Allen said. “They had conversations with parents, checked the students’ grades and had student conferences about those grades. It came with incentives and celebrations for small accomplishments throughout the year.”

Ken Martin, former Gainesville Middle School principal, said the school “should be proud of the fruits of its labor.”

“I reflect on successes of our mentoring groups and the learning supports that have been developed over the last few years with graduation coaches, teachers, administrators, and counselors,” Martin said in a congratulatory email to the middle school staff.

Martin added that the Success Cafe program resulted in a 35 percent improvement in passed classes from 2013 to 2014.

Finally, Allen said the school responded to studies showing students, particularly at the middle and high school level, benefit when not distracted by the opposite gender.

The school provided its eighth-graders with gender-specific opportunities not typically found in a public school. For example, group work would often be done by gender.

“The students really gave a lot of great feedback from that and showed growth from that,” Allen said.

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