Schools present improvement plans to board of education

Published 4:52 pm Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Principals and school improvement leaders from each Polk County school presented highlights of their school improvement plans to board of education members Monday, Oct. 10.
Polk County Schools Director of Curriculum and Instruction Aaron Greene said this year directs a strong focus back to the fundamentals of reading instruction.
“One of the things we always try to do in [the school improvement] process is make sure we are listening to our teachers and principals and looking at the data,” Greene said. “You’ll see schools focus on math for a little while and need to increase their focus on reading, or vice-versa, from time to time. Reading comprehension is a huge part of the new common core standards. It’s going to require learners to have a pretty good level of skill.”
Greene said a program known as Reading Foundations goes back to emphasizing the need for blended programs that teach kids how to read on multifaceted levels.
“You’ve got to make sure none of those areas slip or else your students will struggle in a bigger way down the road,” Greene said.

Polk Central Elementary
Principal Dottie Kinlaw from Polk Central Elementary spoke to the group first.
“We have had a great start and are proud and excited about the educational opportunities we provide our students,” Kinlaw said.
The school began a focus of “Healthy minds, healthy bodies” this school year. The aim is to promote positive character traits and have teachers emphasize nutrition and exercise.
Kinlaw said the administration was proud to accept a Fresh Fruits and Vegetables grant to provide healthier snack options for students. The school is also continuing with its Go Girls running club this year and is proud of the nature trail that teachers use daily, Kinlaw added.
The school also touted its Launching Pad, a brain-based sensory curricular program used with preK to second grades last year. This year the school has obtained similar materials for third through fifth grades.
Like all of the schools, Polk Central is also looking to improve in areas of literacy. Superintendent Bill Miller said a literacy assistance program is already providing positive dividends in that area.

Polk County Middle School
This year Polk County Middle School is working hard to get through a transition year in which more than a handful of teachers retired. Curriculum director Beverly Gregory said there are seven new faculty members at Polk Middle this year and five others who have switched grade levels, teaching teams or subject matter.
“We’ve got to train those new teachers to come along,” Gregory said.
She said the school used this transition as an opportunity to grow and develop a more unified path.
“We must do better – we don’t want to stay on this plateau – what we want to do is go up,” she said.
The school’s teachers and staff spent two days at FENCE this summer developing core ideas. They also determined a need to work on student leadership, reintroduce Science Olympiad and Model UN and attract increased parental involvement.
“We have a happy group of kids – if you don’t believe it come watch them as they come into class,” she said. “We are just tackling some tough issues right now – one of those is homework.”
Superintendent Miller commended Polk Middle for its focus on improvement, especially in the areas of student leadership and homework.

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Saluda Elementary
Saluda Elementary School Principal Ronette Dill spoke to board members about her school’s efforts to bolster students’ ability across the board through hands-on activities, individualized attention and A+ principles of reinforcing subjects one with another.
“We were not as pleased with our reading scores last year as we were with our math so we have a big focus on reading this year,” Dill said.
Dill said they were able to enhance students’ math aptitude by having a counselor with a math background serve as a one-on-one tutor for students who had holes in their math understanding.
To improve writing and reading, Saluda now has its students use writing journals in all subjects.
In science, students are focusing on hands-on projects such as taking digital cameras outside to photograph examples of erosion and sedimentation.
Art teacher Susan McRostie discussed how the school plans to improve reading levels.
“We now have Book Club time – 30 minutes every morning – targeting specific reading skills broken up in very small groups. We aim to focus on reading and the level they are currently in, not their age level,” McRostie said.
She added that the P.E. teacher, technology assistant and other staff are all taking part in giving students individualized attention in this area.
At Saluda School, this year’s theme is, “Small kids can do big things.”

Sunny View Elementary
Sunny View Elementary is working to broaden its students’ horizons in creative ways this year, according to principal Kevin Weis.
The class took a recent school-wide trip to Ripley’s Aquarium in Gatlinburg, where they saw sharks, penguins and stingrays, among other sea creatures. (See Friday’s Bulletin for a feature on the trip.)
Parents are also beginning to recognize the benefits of Sunny View’s after-school program, Weiss said. The program provides an extra hour for students to spend with teachers for focused intervention-type work. About 90 percent of teachers at Sunny View currently participate in the program.
While focusing on specialized instruction, subject matter covered in the classroom encourages students to think broadly.
“We’re doing things that allow our students to experience the world,” Weis said.
The school has found ways to introduce students to other cultures. They’ve put into place a system that allows video-conferencing with students around world. Second-grade students even talked to scientists in the jungles of Bornia about orangutans earlier this year. Kindergarteners meanwhile interacted with another classroom of students in Central America last spring to discuss language.
Weis said all teachers and staff focus on pushing the kids to crave knowledge.
“If there is one thing we can do – and I really took this to heart – it is to teach kids to love to learn,” Weis said. “It’s our job to create that thirst for knowledge.”

Tryon Elementary
Principal Ott Sizemore presented Tryon Elementary’s school improvement plan for the first time as principal of the school. Sizemore said he felt proud to carry on the school’s legacy of excellence.
Teacher Debbie Constance talked to the board about adding a family write night, Octoberfest, Ole Time Christmas, 50s sock-hop and other events to connect family members with the school.
She also talked about how the school currently has a goal for students to read 1 million minutes at home.
Teachers are also encouraging students to think about the theme, “How full is your bucket?” This encourages the kids to write nice things to each other or teachers to fill their bucket.
Sizemore said while they are implementing many new events to connect the community with the school, they are also pushing forward with efforts to improve in-classroom learning. This is especially true, he said, in relation to preparing teachers and students for use of the state’s new common core standards.

Polk County High School
Administrators at Polk County High School have plans to do everything they can to better prepare their students for the world outside.
Pat McCool discussed pride about the school’s efforts to keep the dropout rate below 4 percent for Polk County High School. McCool also brought up efforts to use staff development to implement common core standards.
The school is also encouraging teachers to use global issues through lessons to help kids compete globally. This includes sending several staff members to China to bring back knowledge of that culture to students.
Students must also now look to take the ACT instead of the SAT for college placement. Every junior will now take the test in the spring so staff members at PCHS are working to learn all they can about the test to make adjustments that might help their students achieve higher scores.
“We are well aware we always want to look our best on paper, but we also want to make sure in reality our students are learning what they need to know,” Fagin said.
Administrators are also working to get a website up and running that will allow parents to access their child’s grades. They hope to have that available by Christmas.
Fagin said staff members are also focusing on career and technical education.
“We are always looking at courses to make sure what is offered is current and up to date and useful,” she said.

Polk County Virtual Early College
Polk Counmty Virtual Early College Director Mary Greene said students at the early college ranked their school environment high on a recent Youth Truth Survey.
Students gave the school a score of 4.9 out of 5 for being safe and orderly. The students’ answers to questions about home and family life did, however, concern Greene. She noted that 40 percent of the students said their home life was an obstacle to their education.
“They ask to stay late after school – they ask to come in on Saturdays,” she said. “They are working on school work, they are asking us questions – sometimes about personal things that you would normally expect them to ask their parents but they do not. We’re filling that void in their home life as well.”
Early college staff members are working with students to be model citizens. The students are collecting funds for Thermal Belt Outreach Ministries.
Students are also attending anger management sessions with Step to Hope – not because the kids are bad, Greene said, but because “everyone has angry people come in and out of their lives and we all need to know how to deal with those people.”
Greene said the school is working to boost parent involvement.