After eight years of being placed on the Georgia Department of Education’s dreaded “Needs Improvement” list for being one of the most consistently under performing middle schools in Georgia, Haralson County Middle School made a stand to break out of the status quo. Teachers, students and administrators partnered to create a learning environment open to innovative instructional practices that engaged students and teachers in the education process.
“We encouraged teachers to embrace innovative teaching and incorporate technology into their lesson plans,” said Principal Ridley. “We now have lessons that encourage student use of cell phones and collaboration on Skype [an Internet telephone service provider that offers free calling between computers].”
Haralson County Middle School (HCMS) recently received recognition from the Georgia Association of Secondary School Principals as one of only eight “2012 Breakout Schools” in the state. The Breakout Schools Award is designed to identify, recognize and showcase Georgia middle schools that are high achieving or dramatically improving student achievement.
HCMS made Annual Yearly Progress (AYP) in 2011 and has progressed steadily since then. As a Needs Improvement School, HCMS hosted a state director that was brought in to teach innovative practices to the school staff. Teachers from the school are now modeling these practices for other educators across the Haralson County School System and the rest of the state. Dr. Ridley and Parent Mentor Director Cheryl Benefield recently presented the Keynote Address at both the Focus Schools Summer Institute for the Georgia Department of Education and at the Parent Mentor Participation Annual Conference this past September.
“We are very proud of how far Haralson County Middle School has come,” said Haralson County School System Superintendent Brett Stanton. “It takes tremendous dedication from staff and students to make the improvements they have made in teaching and learning.”
This past spring, the school showed vast improvement in its test scores. Over half of the school’s students exceeded the standards for achievement in the area of Social Studies, a section normally weak for all Georgia students. The school has also doubled its number of perfect scores on the CRCT for three years in a row.
“We are thinking outside of the box and focusing entirely on student outcomes,” said Ridley. “We created a CAFÉ (Circle of Adults Focusing on Education) that meets bi-monthly to address goals for the school and brainstorm how to accomplish these with the support of all stakeholders – parents, the community, teachers and students.”
The CAFÉ has initiated several successful programs this year, including the school’s Facebook campaign to improve communication, Rebel Works (a job readiness program focusing on attendance, professional dress, academic achievement, volunteerism, and communication skills), and a grant from the television show SMASH that will allow the school to put on their first musical this spring “Schoolhouse Rock.” The CAFÉ group is now working on an outdoor classroom in front of the school that will provide greater learning opportunities for the middle school students.
Officials say the Rebel Works Program has really taken off at the school since its kickoff this fall. One hundred and fifteen students participated in Dress for Success Wednesday last month, where they come to school dressed for a job interview.
“We are surprised and pleased at the involvement level for Rebel Works,” said Ridley. “An educated workforce is in great demand here in Haralson County. The community expects the best, and we want to make sure our students receive the training they need to succeed.”
Students are also taught how to create a professional resume´ and exhibit good work ethics. The school is continually looking for partners in the community to help with this project providing training opportunities for students.
Ridley mentioned that with their increased test scores and student achievement has come many other bonuses. Discipline referrals have decreased by half – keeping students in the classroom learning. Student and employee participation in service projects has increased.
“We couldn’t have done any of this without our teachers getting on board and understanding the sense of urgency,” said Ridley. “We have a highly qualified and motivated staff that teach the greatest group of students you could ask for. We may be a rural school, but we have not let that stand in our way of success.”