Each day, educators at Hartley Elementary School gather in a room filled with numbers, charts and graphs. There, they study their school’s data to understand what the numbers are trying to tell them.
The “situation room,” as Principal Shelia Garcia calls it, is where she and the leadership team go over student test scores, teacher attendance, disciplinary actions and anything else that might help them understand how to improve their school.
Something seems to be working. Last month, students, teachers and faculty members gathered to celebrate the school’s eligibility for removal from the state Department of Education’s list of “priority” schools. After completing its current participation in a School Improvement Grant, Hartley will be removed from the state’s list of struggling schools.
“We got off the list because we made 18 percent or higher achievement gains,” Garcia said.
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Priority schools are Title 1 schools -- schools with a high percentage of low-income students -- that have the lowest achievement in math and English for three consecutive years. Also, they have a graduation rate of less than 60 percent or are eligible for a School Improvement Grant, which provides additional funding for intervention and support services.
Sylvia Hooker, Bibb County’s chief innovation and planning officer, said Hartley can serve as an example for other Bibb schools on the priority list. But it’s also important, she said, to ensure the school’s success once the grant money stops coming.
“We have to give a sustainability plan to the state about what kind of funds might you utilize if these are no longer available to you,” she said. “Or what kind of programs, practices, what kind of partnerships and those kind of things that we can continue going that don’t even have anything to do” with the School Improvement Grant.
Garcia isn’t getting complacent. She knows that despite the school’s gains, it’s still below the state average, which is motivation enough to keep setting goals.
“Even though we’ve made progress, we’re not where we need to be,” she said.
The hardest part about turning around Hartley’s low-performing predicament was “transforming the culture,” Garcia said.
That transformation started with communicating the high expectations for students to both faculty and parents. They made sure everyone understood the goals and that the particulars -- from professional learning and instruction to culture and morale -- were put in place.
On a recent school day inside Rosalyn Massey’s classroom, students sat at desks and computers preparing for the Georgia Milestones test. That’s a new state assessment for third grade through high school that measures students’ knowledge of state-adopted standards in language arts, mathematics, science and social studies. The test begins this school year and replaces End-of-Course tests and the Criterion-Referenced Competency tests.
Massey, a fourth-grade teacher, said the additional instruction time that students have received as a part of the improvement plan helped contribute to the school’s success.
“The parents really got involved in the Saturday school and making sure the students participated in our after-school program,” Massey said.
The process for improving a struggling school is all about goal-setting and getting students, in turn, to set their own goals, Garcia said.
She added, “The hardest part is teaching them to develop their own next steps -- really teaching them to understand their data and then getting them to develop with their plan.”
Perdeda Dwight, Bibb’s Title I school improvement coordinator, said it’s easy to see the improvement at Hartley.
“The students talk the same language as the teachers,” she said. “So that right there in itself let me know that the students understand what it is they’re supposed to do, and they know how they’re going to get there.”
To contact writer David Schick, call 744-4382.