Beaufort News

Whale Branch Elementary removed from at-risk schools list

The S.C. Department of Education has removed Whale Branch Elementary School from its list of the state's most at-risk schools.

The Beaufort County School District announced the school's release from the Palmetto Priority Schools program Thursday, saying the school has made academic progress.

Whale Branch Elementary's report card rating for the 2009-10 school year improved to "below average." It had received the state's lowest rating, "at-risk," for several years.

"I'm so excited for my kids, and I'm so excited for my teachers," principal Don Doggett said.

He said he's humbled by the progress students have made during the last two years and looks forward to continued improvement.

"I'll be jumping and shouting from the rooftops when we make (adequate yearly progress) two years in a row," said Doggett, referring to a benchmark in the federal No Child Left Behind law.

Whale Branch Elementary joined the priority-schools program in 2009 after failing to meet state-mandated performance goals for five consecutive years. It was the first Beaufort County school to qualify for the project, which was created by former state superintendent Jim Rex as an alternative to the state taking over a school.

The program gives extra help to high-poverty and under-performing schools. The schools are monitored by the S.C. Education Department.

Doggett attributes some of his school's success to an initiative the Beaufort County School District began in 2009 to provide extra support to the county's four schools with the longest histories of unsatisfactory scores on state tests. At those schools, the district extended the school year, added rigor to the curriculum and offered financial incentives to attract top teachers and principals.

Doggett said the school's teachers take their jobs seriously and seek improvement.

"The right people are on the bus in the right seats," he said.