on September 1, 2009 by in Uncategorized, Comments (0)

Oconee, Pickens schools among participants in Palmetto Gold/Silver Showcase

Five elementary schools and one high school in Oconee and Pickens counties are among 103 award-winning Palmetto Gold and Palmetto Silver schools chosen to share their success stories with other schools throughout the state.

Keowee, Northside and Walhalla Elementary in Oconee joined Clemson and Six Mile Elementary in Pickens County, along with Walhalla High.

Schools featured in the showcase provide one-page summaries describing programs or topics that they believe directly impact student achievement. Their summaries offer tips and ideas on various issues ranging from instructional practices that increase student learning to innovative community involvement strategies.

Kay Powell, director of community services and public relations for Oconee County schools, said the Board of Trustees will recognize the showcase winners Sept. 15.

“It certainly is a celebration of what they’re doing for children, that they’re being held up as models for Palmetto Silver and Gold winners,” Powell said. “They now will be able to showcase what they have done for other schools and how they can replicate that in their own schools and close the achievement gap for underperforming populations.”

Additional information on the Oconee County schools selected as showcase winners and what is taking place in their respective classrooms is as follows:

• Keowee Elementary — Although a small school with an enrollment of 300, officials say Keowee Elementary has consistently met AYP, received the Palmetto Silver Award for 2007 and 2008 and was recognized for successfully closing the achievement gap. “Rise & Shine” is among the programs that officials say has contributed to that success, as the program focuses exclusively on South Carolina Standards “to maximize each student’s academic potential and elevate his or her skill level.”

The program involves the assignment of each student to a teacher, for assistance at his or her individual level based on Measures of Assessment Progress (MAP) scores. Officials say student response has been overwhelmingly positive, with attendance ranging from 75 to 80 percent.

• Northside Elementary — The school works extensively with data analysis and professional development pertaining to literacy and small group instruction with children, reflecting on MAP scores and other of diagnostic benchmarks. Teachers and administrators set goals with students prior to each testing session, and administrators hold data review meetings with teachers to review current/future instruction. A development map is created each year to determine the directon of staff development for teachers.

In addition, book clubs are formed to discuss texts involving reading and small group discussion and the implications of what is taken from those texts.

Officials say the school’s instructional schedule allows for teachers to have ample time to instruct children through the elements of balanced literacy — reading aloud, sharing reading and writing, small group instruction, word study, independent reading and writing and conferences.

• Walhalla Elementary — A commitment to reviewing available data and school-wide emphasis on balanced literacy were the two factors listed by school officials as vital to the school’s success. Students take the MAP test three times a year in math, reading and language usage, and teachers and administrators review the test data, since the computerized testing program provides feedback within 24 hours of the student completing the test or tests. The data review consists of seeking trends, patterns and/or gaps within classes, grade levels and the school.

Teachers at the school use a continuum that provides information regarding skills and concepts within each strand that need to be enhanced, developed or introduced to each student.

Officials credit the district’s Balanced Literacy approach as another reason for their success. Small group instruction through guided reading, a minimum of three read alouds daily, a variety of literacy stations in each class and interactive activities using the SmartBoard and computer. Faculty has worked to develop grade level expectations and grade level “No Excuse” words to minimize gaps and redundancies.

• Walhalla High — The school sponsors a late start for students on Wednesday mornings to give teachers time to meet collaboratively for staff development. Officials say meeting first thing in the morning rather than after school provides teachers with new enthusiasm and energy toward staff development. Book studies are also held during that time that includes such themes as “Professional Learning Communities at Work” and “How to Grade for Learning.”

The focus of the school is developing common assessments for like courses, examining fair grading practices, developing literacy strategies and examining data for strengths and addressing weaknesses. School leadership meets by departments, grade levels, leadership teams and High Schools That Work teams and uses focus questions to develop a school improvement plan to improve instruction.

In Pickens County, Superintendent Henry Hunt said he is pleased with the growth in student learning that is taking place and attributes MAP testing as a large part of that success.

“By analyzing each student’s weaknesses, teachers can make instructional practices to address those weaknesses,” Hunt said.

At Clemson Elementary, the school posted its second consecutive scores of “Excellent” in absolute performance rating and improvement rating on its 2008-09 school report card. The school is one of only 31 in the state to qualify for a Palmetto Gold award for each of the eight years of its existence.

Teachers use instructional prescriptions derived from MAP testing to focus instructional applications on student strengths and weaknesses, and teachers focus on reading achievement through diagnosis, remediation and enrichment. The multi-age classes are an attempt to address the achievement gap and offer something outside of the traditional classroom to students and parents while technology-based delivery of instruction continues to enhance teaching and learning processes.

But officials say they believe the nurturing of a strong, positive school culture based on excellence in teaching and learning is the best explanation for the school’s success. They say a focus on people constitutes the crucial internal focal point.

Six Mile Elementary School has achieved success that school officials believe is based on its faculty vision of setting definite goals and researching and implementing best practices. Although the school received awards for several years regarding its ability to close the achievement gap, faculty members observed that a majority of students were falling into the “Basic” category, with no large proficient and advanced populations.

Officials say their first strategy was to examine MAP data closely to determine specific students who could benefit from before and after school tutoring sessions in math or reading. Staff met with students to teach specifically designed lessons, as well as using the computerized program “Classworks,” charting progress of those students from the fall to winter MAP assessment and then redefining the list of students again in the winter. The school then followed students through the spring MAP assessment and, as a result, noted that targeted students performed “very well” on the 2007-08 PACT.

Students were required to read at least 15-20 minutes each night, and reading homework also required nonfiction reading.

Only those schools that submitted items were selected for the showcase. State Superintendent Jim Rex said the showcase provides an excellent way for educators to learn about best practices in neighboring schools and, therefore, create learning communities among all schools across the state.

“There are thousands of success stories that are worth sharing,” Rex said.