S.C. superintendent makes return visit to St. Helena Elementary to tout its turnaround

Zais says little about Jasper school district's "F"

sbowman@islandpacket.comSeptember 5, 2013 

S.C. schools superintendent Mick Zais didn't have much to say Thursday about Jasper County public schools getting an "F" two years in a row and having the lowest scores in the state on the latest federal report cards.

He said the state, by law, cannot take over the district, something some parents are demanding.

"What happens in Jasper County depends on what happens in the community, and if the community and its citizens decide that something needs to change and actually makes that change," Zais said during a visit to a charter school in Hardeeville.

Parent and community involvement was an important factor for schools that have improved, he said

Zaid doesn't plan to visit the Jasper County district this year, as he came last year when it also got an "F."

On Saturday, Jasper County parents plan to rally at 10 a.m. at Sgt. Jasper Park in Hardeeville to express concern about the school system's poor scores.

A year has made quite a difference from the last time the state superintendent went to St. Helena Elementary School.

Mick Zais visited St. Helena last year to discuss the challenges it faced when it was the only school in Beaufort County to receive a failing grade on federal standards.

On Thursday, he stopped by to learn what it did to make an "A."

"It was a pretty remarkable turnaround (at St. Helena), so I thought it would be interesting for me to come and hear what made the difference," Zais said.

Zais met with principal Nicole Holloman, as well as other staff members and district officials, to discuss the school's improvement from 51.7 to 92.3 points on a 100-point scale.

School officials said they used test data to target weak areas and create a 14-point plan to help students. They spoke of using flash cards for math, having parents sign math and reading logs, and other simple but meaningful measures.

But one of the effective changes, TAP master teacher Adriene Johnson said, was parent and community involvement.

"We have always worked hard, but the grade we received drew attention to our efforts and what needed to be done," she said. "It propelled all the stakeholders and brought all the parts together to help our students."

While Zais, county superintendent Jeffrey Moss and staff touted the school's success, they all said there's still work to be done.

Though it got an "A" on its progress toward federal standards, it did not meet those standards. The higher grade comes from the enormous growth the school achieved over the past year, Zais said.

Holloman, who started in July, said the staff and students now need to sustain that growth. She said they will continue to educate parents and encourage their involvement, as well as put some of the school's most talented teachers at younger grade levels.


Zais also visited Royal Live Oaks Academy of Arts and Sciences in Hardeeville.

The public charter school got an "F" on the 2013 federal standards. The school has only been open for one year, so it did not have a 2012 grade.

Zais mentioned some of the strategies employed at St. Helena Elementary during his visit to Royal Live Oaks.

He said schools that receive failing grades should not be defensive but use the scores to improve.

As part of the S.C. Public Charter School District, the school's score of 50.5 points came because the school did not meet standards and there was no past data to compare its scores with for growth, Zais said.

The school's executive director, Karen Wicks, said many of the students started school two or three grade levels behind academically, and the school has helped them improve.

Wicks told Zais the school will earn an "A" next year.

"I knew there was no way we would meet standards this year when children came in so far behind, but we've made great progress," Wicks said. "We will focus on the individual students, and then the overall scores will take care of themselves."

Follow reporter Sarah Bowman on Twitter at twitter.com/IPBG_Sarah.

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