Gainesville High School and New Holland Core Knowledge Academy will take to the stage today in Savannah as they accept awards from the National Youth at Risk Organization.
Gainesville High was selected to receive the "High Flying School Award," an honor given to only five schools nationwide. The award is presented to schools with "high academic achievement for minority and high poverty students."
New Holland was named as an honorable mention for the award as well.
"We're so proud," said Dr. Merrianne Dyer, Gainesville Schools Superintendent. "It's an achievement to have two (schools honored)."
Gainesville High, which was named a Blue Ribbon School last year, continues its academic success with the award, which has some very specific criteria.
The winning schools must rank in the 75th percentile or greater in at least three different academic subjects spanning two grade levels, have a poverty rate of above 50 percent (Gainesville High is 68 percent) and minority students must occupy at least 50 percent of the student population (just above 50 percent for Gainesville High).
"Gainesville High School has worked diligently over the last five years to offer opportunities for every student," said Dyer. "It's evident in the increased graduation rate and the number of students that are enrolling in secondary institutions. This is a tribute to the work that Gainesville High has done, along with the community and our school system."
Schools must also show a dedicated community collaboration, citizen development and evidence of a democratic education.
The high school partners with Gainesville State College in its Near Peer Program, designed to mentor targeted students, as well as with Brenau University in a leadership development program. Gainesville High also based its school improvement plan on student feedback.
The three, along with numerous programs and extracurricular activities, propelled Gainesville High into the top five.
"Despite the poverty, we're still a Title 1 School," said Chris Mance, Gainesville High School principal. "Despite that, we're still performing and getting awards, which speaks to the high achievement of the goals that we have set for our kids."
New Holland, which is composed of 620 students — 94 percent minority and 90 percent under the poverty level — is also "thrilled" with the award.
"We're thrilled that not only in the 2010-11 CRCT (Criterion-Referenced Competency Tests) we made AYP, but we had some of the highest academic gains in the system," said New Holland Principal Pam Wood. "Because of those gains, I was able to contact the National Youth at Risk Organization."
She submitted the school's profile and won an honorable mention.
The previous year, the school did not meet AYP for the first time ever, leading to changes, including implementing SMART (Specific Measurable Attainable Realistic Timely) goals. The plan paid off.
"I've known all along we could do it, we just needed to make adjustments," said Wood. "Once we became very student focused, we knew what we needed to fix."
The school also won bronze status from the Governor's Office of Student Achievement for its academic gains from 2009-10 to 2010-11.
"It means quite a lot (to get these honors)," said Wood.
It's an honor that has not gone unnoticed.
"Our mission and belief goals state that it takes all of us in the community, not just the schools and the teachers," said Dyer. "All of those things working together in intentional ways can result in students achieving goals that you set."
The awards will be presented at the National Youth at Risk Conference in Savannah today.