Beaufort News

Four schools get high marks for accelerated learning program

External evaluators gave high marks to a model the Beaufort County School District has put in place to boost student achievement in its highest-need schools, district officials told the Board of Education on Tuesday.

Instructional services chief Sean Alford reviewed the results of a report that analyzed how well the "accelerated learning schools" model was implemented at St. Helena Elementary, Whale Branch Elementary, Whale Branch Middle and the James J. Davis Early Childhood Education Center.

Those high-poverty schools were identified as needing additional support as a result of their long histories of poor performance on state-mandated tests.

"The principals and staff have done a wonderful job of making sure the school community has bought into the vision and the goals," Alford said.

The model, implemented for the 2009-10 school year, required the schools to:

  • Extend the school year by 20 days.
  • Recruit visionary leaders willing to make dramatic changes.
  • Recruit master teachers at each grade level who would also coach colleagues.
  • Increase the rigor of the curriculum.
  • The schools set a goal of leading their students to 1.5 years of academic gains in one year, as measured by a standardized test.

    Don Doggett, principal of both Whale Branch Elementary and the Davis Center, told the board it is still too early to say what percentage of students achieved that goal because final test results won't be available until June.

    But he said there are signs of progress.

    For instance, Doggett said, the improvement rate in math for his students meets or exceeds the national improvement rate at all grade levels. Kindergartners and first-graders also exceeded the national improvement rate in reading.

    "We're catching up, and that is what this is about," Doggett said. "It's about catch-up growth for a persistently under-performing school."

    The consultants, paid about $30,000 for their evaluation, issued recommendations to strengthen the program after reviewing relevant research, interviewing staff and observing classrooms.

    Those recommendations include:

  • Actively recruiting and training future school leaders for historically under-performing campuses.
  • Providing additional staff development on making data-driven decisions and analyzing testing data at the teacher level to determine who might need further support.
  • Better articulating the vision of the model to staff.
  • Pursuing state and federal grants, as well as private funding, to pay for continuation of the program when the federal stimulus money that has funded much of it runs out in the coming school year.
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