Peach schools eligible for federal money

FORT VALLEY — Officials in Peach County are hoping their eligibility for a federal grant meant to improve school achievement can help give Peach County High School a face-lift.

In a special meeting March 10, Superintendent Susan Clark said the school would be eligible for up to $2 million a year for three years in federal funds from school improvement grants. To receive the grants, eligible schools, identified as low-achieving, must adopt one of four educational models to improve student performance.

The options are:

— The closure model, which involves closing a school and enrolling those students in other schools in the district.

— The restart model, in which a school reopens as a charter school.

— The turnaround model, requiring schools to replace the principal and half its staff, as well as putting a new instructional plan into place.

— The transformation model, using a data-driven instructional model and evaluating teacher and leader effectiveness.

Clark said the only feasible model for Peach County, a small district with one high school, is transformation. Peach County is required to submit documents to the state by April 15 if it wishes to be considered for the grant funds.

While spending roughly $500,000 in the last five years at Peach County High School for professional learning, the school has ranked among the lowest achieving 5 percent of Tier II Georgia high schools which are eligible for, but don’t receive, Title I funds.

Hawkinsville High School has also been identified as a Tier II school in Middle Georgia, according to the Georgia Department of Education. All of the eligible high schools in Bibb County — Northeast, Rutland, Southwest and Hutchings Career Center — are classified as Tier I schools, which receive the highest priority for the funding.

Clark hopes the grant money will allow the county to academically restructure Peach County High School.

The high school would continue to have Trojan Academy for ninth-graders, but would add three themed academies — a science, technology, engineering and mathematics academy; an arts and humanities academy; and a human services academy, which would include training for careers in fields that do not require a four-year college degree.

Teachers would begin working with the students in the eighth grade to determine interests and academic strengths. The school would also hire more instructional coaches, implement a family resource center and restructure the guidance department.

School officials have discussed the plans for about a year and a half, Clark said.

“My philosophy has always been (to) figure out what you want to do, and somehow the money shows up,” she said. “Not always when you need or want it, but if you have an idea, the money always shows.”

Under the transformation model, the district would typically be required to replace its principals, Peach County High School’s Bruce Mackey and Trojan Academy’s Quintin Green.

However, Peach County secured permission from the state to keep them in place, Clark said, since both have held their posts for less than two years.

“We would not apply for the money if they insist we replace the principals,” Clark said. “Both gentlemen are doing a very good job.”

Clark said the circumstances could ultimately allow the high school to perform better.

At last week’s meeting, teachers were given a March 17 deadline to either submit a letter of commitment to instructional guidelines and rubrics developed by the state department of education, as well as a self-assessment, or submit a letter of retirement or resignation.

For the teachers who decide to commit to the process, they will be required to teach a lesson for an independent instructional review team, meet with an administrator and instructional coach to review that assessment to prepare a professional growth plan and undergo summer training. Most of that process will take place from mid-April to mid-May.

“Some are nervous and went home from the meeting with heads hung low. I felt like that, too,” Clark said of the teachers.

“On the other hand, teachers are saying they’re excited about the opportunity to do something differently. They accept the challenge. They’re talking to each other about how they can make this work, and I find that very encouraging.”

“We would not apply for the money if they insist we replace the principals,” Clark said. “Both gentlemen are doing a very good job.”

Clark said the circumstances could ultimately allow the high school to perform better.

“I’m not happy about being in the bottom 5 percent, but having this money is having lemons and making lemonade out of it,” Clark said.

Some schools in Baldwin, Dublin, Houston, Macon, Pulaski, Thomaston-Upson, Washington and Wilkinson school districts include Tier III schools, which means they could be eligible for funds after Tier I and II schools receive grant money.

To contact writer Andrea Castillo, call 256-9751.