02/28/07 — State eyes success at local school

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State eyes success at local school

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on February 28, 2007 1:51 PM

One local school's success has captured the attention of state officials, prompting a visit this week from the state's Department of Public Instruction.

Tommy's Road Elementary School, which has about a 50-50 ratio of white to minority students, has maintained outstanding test scores in recent years, making it one of 14 schools across North Carolina that "closed the achievement gap."

Representatives from the state were at the school Tuesday and today to study how faculty and staff helped close the gap between white and minority students. Their primary purpose was to observe classroom practices and to interview teachers and students. In addition, officials were scheduled to have lunch and meet with parents, business partners and the central office staff.

"It gives us a chance to let people know some of the positive things that we're doing to close the achievement gap," said Patsy Faison, principal since Tommy's Road opened in the 2000-01 school year.

Finding ways to reach children so they can get the education they need is the school's goal, Mrs. Faison said.

"It's just something that we take very seriously," she said. "We want to educate (students) by any means necessary."

Doing that requires not only quality teachers but much collaboration between grade levels and departments.

"We take a look at what's working and what's not," she said. "We integrate across the curriculum with art and P.E. and music and, of course, we know that science and social studies are important, and we know how important it is to align the curriculum with the standard course of study."

Parents also play an integral part in the success of the school. And it doesn't hurt to have quality students to work with, Mrs. Faison said.

"Our programs are very tight. Our teachers are very tight. We have a close-knit staff and we stick together. We're a team," she said. "Attitude is everything. I have zero tolerance for bad behavior (from students). I say we have a 'D&O school' -- discipline and order. We enforce a code of conduct."

Children, she said, "don't need another friend. They need guidance" and that is what she hopes to instill as an educator.

Closing the gap for the two major groups served at Tommy's Road -- blacks and whites -- is an accomplishment, Mrs. Faison said. It has been done, she said, by "working hard and working smart and trying to make a difference for our children."

In the seven years the school has been open, it was named a "School of Distinction" for the first three years, based on the N.C. ABCs performance standard. For the 2004-05 school year, it became a "School of Excellence" with a performance composite of 90.5 percent.

Dr. Craig McFadden, assistant superintendent for accountability and student services, said the school system is proud of the continued success at Tommy's Road.

"When looking at the percentages of students scoring at or above grade level on both reading and math end of grade tests in the 2003-04 school year, the achievement gap between the groups was 14.8 percent," he said. "In 2004-05, it decreased to 9.6 percent, a 5.2 percent reduction."

Educators and staff have worked hard to motivate students academically, said the schools' superintendent, Dr. Steven Taylor. At the same time, he acknowledged that "there is still much work to do at all 32 of our schools" and said no one should be satisfied until the same success is accomplished across the district.

Standards for measuring achievement have recently been revamped by the state, making it difficult to measure K-8 gaps between the 2004-05 and 2005-06 school years. Last year, North Carolina implemented new K-8 math tests, as well as new growth formulas and more stringent achievement levels, making the ABCs model completely new for elementary and middle schools, with performance composites more difficult to compare.

In late March, representatives from Tommy's Road as well as Eastern Wayne Elementary, another Wayne County school that had a smaller achievement gap between 2003-04 and 2004-05, will be presenters at the 2007 Raising Achievement and Closing Gaps Conference in Greensboro.