The large, handmade sign in Rutland High Schools main vestibule said it all:
We made it our priority to not be a Priority School.
Bibb County school system officials celebrated Tuesday with Rutland staff and students the news that the school is no longer considered a Georgia Department of Educations Priority School.
Were no longer considered a low-achieving school, Rutland Principal Jerri Hall said. It was a team effort. The staff and the students worked really hard, and we had the support of the state Department of Education and the local school board. The staff did whatever was asked of them.
Priority Schools are those identified by the state as the lowest-performing. Because Rutland High was in the bottom 5 percent of all schools statewide, it was one of 26 schools to qualify for a School Improvement Grant aimed at boosting graduation rates and test scores.
Of those 26 schools, Rutland is one of just eight to be taken off the Priority Schools list, Bibb County Deputy Superintendent Sylvia Hooker said Tuesday.
I am overjoyed, Hooker said. My heart just pounded (after receiving the news). The people who really put the pedal to the metal were these students.
Hall said Rutland received about $1 million per year over the three-year life of the grant, which was used to pay for tutoring sessions, hire graduation and instructional coaches and buy new technology. Students and teachers set up tutoring sessions after school, on Saturdays and over the summer to improve struggling students test scores.
As a result, Rutlands end-of-course test scores improved by 13 percentage points in economics, 5 percentage points in Math II and 2 percentage points in biology from the 2010-11 school year to 2012-13. In addition, Rutlands graduation rate increased from 58 percent in the 2010-11 school year to 64 percent in 2011-12. The state hasnt yet released numbers for 2012-13, Hall said, but she is expecting the upward trend to continue.
We received a lot of training and a lot of professional learning, she said. We offered a lot of services ... and improved our technology. Students had access to technology.
Sara Crane-Cowart, an economics teacher who has worked at Rutland for 10 years, said shes glad to see the hard work paying off.
Im very proud of the students, she said. Weve done a lot of collaboration planning within the department and with other schools. We were able to tailor our instruction to meet the needs of the students who were struggling and get them to where they needed to be.
Eric John, a Rutland senior, said the program has helped him get on track to graduate.
It means our school is getting better, and getting better, and getting better, he said. Everything is different now.
Paris Burks, a junior, said she fell behind in some of her classes, but the instruction program that was put in place should keep her on course to graduate with her class next year.
I got behind, and I didnt know what to do, she said. I took credit repair (after-school instruction) and I was able to redo a test, which kept me on track. Next year, I should graduate on time.
Bibb County school board member Lester Miller attended Tuesdays celebration.
Its a really good accomplishment because of hard work and dedication, he said. It was a matter of getting the leadership in place that needs to be in place. ... The teachers worked beyond their regular hours.
To contact writer Phillip Ramati, call 744-4334.