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Our Views: In praise of progress
Hall, Gainesville students succeed in classroom even as school systems face budget challenges
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In a year’s time, school system administrators in our area have faced challenges they never anticipated.

Schools took a huge hit when the nation’s economy tanked last fall. Tax revenues already had been falling, but with more residents in Gainesville and Hall County losing their jobs and their homes, those income sources cratered.

As local governments were forced to make do with less, resulting in job and service cuts, furloughs and other draconian measures, schools found themselves facing a growing student population with less money. Systems had their state’s contributions cut by 5 percent, then by another 3 percent, putting them in a crunch to provide a high level of classroom education, maintain their buildings and facilities and continue to hire and retain the best teachers. Gainesville had the extra burden of a budget deficit already in place from the previous year.

Yet in spite of all these obstacles, schools in Gainesville and Hall County just completed their most successful academic year of the decade. For the first time since the No Child Left Behind Act was put in place in 2001, which requires schools and systems to meet federal education standards as gauged by test scores, every school in the county made Adequate Yearly Progress, as did the system itself. The Gainesville system and all but one of its schools made the same progress.

Only one school from each system missed AYP when the first round of scores came out. Summer retests of the Criterion-Referenced Competency Test, the main gauge for NCLB standards in Georgia, lifted Chicopee Woods Elementary over the top. Gainesville Middle School missed by the slimmest of margins: one special-needs student in a single subject.

And nine Hall County schools earned the Superintendent’s Distinguished Achievement Award for their CRCT scores.

Federal law grades schools on their performance based on test scores, attendance and graduation rates. Schools that do not meet AYP are considered Needs Improvement and must offer after-school tutoring programs and other options to parents.

Georgia schools made progress overall, with 150 more schools and 25 more districts reaching AYP statewide. Education leaders credit more intense classroom instruction, particularly in math, for raising students’ performances.

East Hall Middle was a special success story, slipping into Needs Improvement status every year before making AYP the last two years. It took a focused, schoolwide effort by a student body in which a majority are poor and face special needs, and many don’t speak English. Yet teachers and students gathered on Saturdays and put in the extra time to help EHMS raise its test scores, proving to everyone that it can be done.

Only one Hall County school, South Hall Middle, remains under Needs Improvement, though it made AYP this year and can come off the list with another strong year. Four Hall schools — East Hall Middle, East Hall High, North Hall Middle and White Sulphur Elementary — have come off the Needs Improvement list.

While each of Hall County’s 34 schools met AYP, the system reached it as well by posting graduation test scores of 75 percent (the statewide rate rose to 78.9 percent).

Students and school officials in Banks, Rabun, Union, White and Lumpkin counties and the Buford and Jefferson city systems also are celebrating their districts’ AYP success.

The fact that so many of our schools have now crossed that barrier is cause for celebration for all administrators, students, teachers and parents. Now, as Hall Superintendent Will Schofield says, teachers can begin to move beyond "adequate" classroom goals and go even further in helping students develop "21st century skills." That means pushing students, particularly the high achievers, to the next level where they can become fluent in multiple languages, capable with technology and better prepared to provide the scientific, economic and political thinking needed to help our nation compete in a global economy.

We congratulate Schofield and Gainesville Superintendent Merrianne Dyer, who have been able to keep the instruction levels in their classrooms high and their teachers motivated to help students achieve, despite ongoing budget challenges.

We congratulate the principals and administrators at each school for their role in pushing their students toward progress. And of course, we honor our dedicated teachers who put their students first despite professional and personal challenges.

And we also applaud our city and county students for making a commitment to shine in the classroom. They hear the lectures from parents, teachers and others on how important education is to their ultimate success in life. Clearly enough of them have bought into that message and have worked hard to learn, for their sake and their schools’.

It’s a badge of honor that Gainesville and Hall County can wear communitywide. Schools are among the key criteria that businesses and residents review when choosing an area for relocation. An educated populace provides the work force and brain power we need to carry us into the future. All of that starts with the hard work and success we see in our classrooms.

We share our local schools’ pride in their achievement and we look forward to trumpeting even greater success in years to come.