Wayne Preparatory Academy has received an Exceeded Academic Growth Award from the N.C. Department of Public Instruction, after students at the school showed substantial growth during the 2016-17 school year.

John Twitty, managing director at WPA, said that the school was not aware that the award even existed until he received a letter from state superintendent Mark Johnson.

"This is the first year that they're doing this award, and we're ecstatic about receiving this," Twitty said. "When we initially found out about the growth, we didn't know we were going to get an award, but in one year we had five years worth of growth."

From the 2015-16 school year to the 2016-17 year, Wayne Prep brought it's school performance score from a 41 -- just two points above failing -- to a 54 in one year. While that still gives the school a "D" grade, it is one point below a "C" and means that the school is no longer classified as low-performing.

A school's performance score is a grade given by NCDPI which is calculated based on student proficiency -- test scores -- and growth, or how those scores match up to expectations.

A 13-point jump like that at Wayne Prep is rare. Between the 2015-16 and 2016-17 school years, only one Wayne County public school improved its performance grade by more than six points. That school -- Rosewood Middle -- increased its performance grade 12 point from 53 to 65, bringing its letter grade from a "D" to a "C" in the process. Seventeen WCPS schools finished the 2016-17 year with a "C" grade or higher, according to data released by NCDPI.

Twitty credited the higher test scores to the work of WPA teachers, as well as the direct instruction curriculum which the school uses. In direct instruction, teachers read directly from a scripted program, and students follow along and collectively repeat answers multiple times. The idea behind the approach is that constant repetition helps struggling students become familiar with the material.

"Teaching kids at their level, we use direct instruction so we can help those kids who are extremely low, especially in math, reach a goal," Twitty said. "Growth is extremely important in the state of North Carolina, and every kid does not learn at the same level."

Twitty said that allowing teachers to innovate around that direct instruction method helps them to be flexible in educating students at different levels. While direct instruction forms the core of how Wayne Prep operates, teachers are able to tailor the curriculum to meet the needs of their classes, he said.

A 20-year Air Force veteran, Twitty took over as managing director in June, after previous director Todd Forgette resigned over disagreements with the school's board of directors. He previously worked as a teacher and school administrator, and taught sixth grade English at Wayne Prep before stepping into his current role. Twitty said he plans to keep the school on its course by keeping students and staff accountable for their success.

"We have what we call WIGs, or widely important goals, and each child has come up with their own WIG," he said. "And as opposed to waiting for us to do a benchmark assessment, every two weeks I'll check their progress. They can also check their progress, and if their behind, they know they need to step up their game."

Wayne Prep has around 545 students, Twitty said, which means that many portfolios for him to assess every two weeks.

Wayne Prep was forced to lay off in October due to lower-than-expected enrollment. Twitty hopes that the school's improvement will show parents that the school is a viable place to send their children.

"Hopefully, this will help with our recruitment," he said. "Hopefully this shows parents that we're actually teaching kids here, we're not just going to rest on our laurels."

Behind the statistics, programs and other data at Wayne Prep are the teachers and staff who put them into practice. Twitty gave the people of Wayne Prep all of the credit for its success.

"I want this to be the best school in Wayne County, that is my goal," he said. "I am proud of the staff here and the outstanding accomplishments they've made."