4 Bibb high schools embrace changes

Principals at four Bibb County high schools identified by the state as among the lowest achieving said Thursday they are adapting to the major reform efforts now surging through their schools.

The state signed off on School Improvement Grant plans Aug. 6 for Rutland, Southwest and Northeast high schools as well as Hutchings Career Center.

Those four high schools were targeted for being in the bottom 5 percent of schools in the state and were eligible to receive $12.8 million over three years to try new ways to create change.

Money for the first year should arrive next week, Bibb school officials said.

Getting the federal money required the schools to assume new leadership, hold teachers accountable for their students’ performance and use different methods of teaching students, such as longer school hours and the use of technology.

So far, the required changes haven’t intimidated teachers, officials said.

“Everyone is on board. They want change and to see that growth,” said Benjy Morgan, the new principal at Southwest High. “Changing school climates, it’s what we’re used to.”

Rutland High School Principal Jeri Hall went so far as to have T-shirts made for her teachers and staff to wear, which they did this past Friday.

The shirts read: “Rutland students are on my mind.”

“I think they are excited to have the opportunities,” she said of access to professional development training and the use of technology.

Hutchings Career Center Principal Russ Chesser said teachers, parents and students are all aware of the expectations.

“For the most part, they all know the bar is up here and everyone is working hard,” he said. “They know a lot is at stake.”

As part of the grant, all teachers in the four schools will be trained to teach gifted and Advanced Placement courses to raise the bar in their classrooms for all students, not just those identified as advanced.

Starting next school year, teachers will be evaluated on their performances.

They would earn rewards of up to $750 for meeting benchmarks and face termination if not.

A core-subject teacher must increase End of Course Tests and Georgia High School Graduation Test scores by 5 percent. Other specialty course teachers must have 70 percent of their classes pass district approved exams, according to grant documents.

Science teachers are expected to increase students’ participation in the county science fair by 10 percent, and schools are to increase their graduation rates by 5 percent or be penalized by losing grant money or their jobs.

Teachers will be videotaped giving lessons for evaluation, and the district’s central office will routinely do classroom walk-throughs to observe teaching methods.

Each of the four schools also will hire up to three school-based academic coaches who are certified in math or English language arts to help coach teachers.

The district also plans to hire a systemwide school improvement specialist to coordinate instruction at the four schools.

“Some of the academic coaches have been hired, and we are still in the process of hiring the systemwide specialist,” said Kathy Reese, interim deputy superintendent of teaching and learning.

The four schools also are in the process of buying new technology such as netbooks and iPods for students.

Northeast High School Principal Quintin Green said he plans to buy iPods but will start out small and hopefully expand later.

“We will probably use a check-out system,” he said of the devices. “We can’t get one for every student in the school.”

The goal is to tap into student interest to raise achievement levels, which all four principals expect to happen by next year.

To contact writer Julie Hubbard, call 744-4331.