Whale Branch Middle School has won a $50,000 national award for its professional-development program for teachers.
The school began using the program, called TAP, in 2004. It combines teacher collaboration and mentoring with regular evaluations and continuing teacher education.The TAP Founder's Award was presented in a surprise announcement at the TAP conference Friday in Los Angeles.
Whale Branch Middle principal Matthew Hunt was at the conference, along with Superintendent Valerie Truesdale. Both said the announcement came as a "total shock."
Hunt said the money from the award likely will be used for animation and robotics programs at the school, as well as student field trips to colleges.
Hunt told his staff and students the news in a phone conference Friday.
"There were many, many screams in the background," he said. "They were elated."
Beaufort County School District officials have credited the program, also in place in 14 other county schools, with improving student achievement. When student test scores improve at TAP schools, teachers and school staff are rewarded with bonuses. The average bonus given in Beaufort County last year was $2,200. Bonuses are paid with federal funds.
Whale Branch Middle is one of four TAP schools in the district at which students have made more improvement in one year on achievement tests than is typically expected. The others are Beaufort, St. Helena and Whale Branch elementary schools.
Whale Branch Middle has earned the top score possible within the TAP system for their students' growth, Truesdale said.
About three years ago, the school was part of a "turn-around" effort, which included placing a new principal at the school, extending the school year and fully implementing the TAP system.
Whale Branch Middle has grown from an "at-risk" rating on its state report card in 2008 to "average" in 2011. State report card ratings are based on scores on state-mandated tests, student-teacher ratios, money spent per student, amount of instructional time and several other factors.
The school was selected for the award by the National Institute for Excellence in Teaching, which manages TAP. The award is based on three criteria: full and proficient implementation of TAP; student achievement; and recognition as a center of best practices.
"TAP works so well at our school because we adhere to the system," Hunt said. "... This award is for the teachers and the kids. It's about the community seeing that we have highly qualified teachers teaching their children every day."
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