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From Average to Exceptional - Stellar Growth and Positive Energy in Lucedale, Mississippi

From Average to Exceptional - Stellar Growth and Positive Energy in Lucedale, Mississippi
School Name and Location: 
Central Elementary School - Lucedale, MS
The Challenge: 

Central Elementary School in Lucedale, Mississippi, had always been at the middle to the low end when it came to student performance in comparison with other schools in the district.

"There were the top-tier school[s], and then you had us—our poverty levels are way beyond what the other schools have, and so we've always been told we're the school that had no chance," explained Zack Bost, principal.

When Principal Bost and Assistant Principal Sherry Pilkington took over the school in the summer of 2017, they decided they would do everything they could to change that.

"We immediately started visiting some of the top schools in the state of Mississippi because we were convinced that we could flip it," said Bost.

How They Did it: 

The first step in transforming the school was to get the faculty on board. Mr. Bost and Ms. Pilkington knew that whether they were successful or unsuccessful depended on the teachers buying into their vision, so at the end of the 2016–17 school year, before they were officially in their new roles at the school, they met with the faculty.

"I told them that day, 'Every ingredient we need to be successful is right here in this room, right now,'" relayed Mr. Bost.

He also asked faculty members to read the book The Energy Bus by Jon Gordon, which describes 10 secrets for approaching life and work with a positive energy that leads to success. Then, they brought what they learned from that book to the next school year by implementing programs and activities to make the school full of positivity and fun for the students. Some of those activities include karaoke and dance parties every morning; a program of enrolling all students into “Houses,” an idea borrowed from the Ron Clark Academy and modeled after Harry Potter; and over 30 clubs that students attend on Fridays.
And, then, there are the academics.

"At some point, you've got to grind it out, once you get them happy and excited," said Mr. Bost. “We've tricked them [students] into wanting to come here, but now we hit them with the academics, and that's where we saw explosive growth.”

After considering a different online program, Mr. Bost made the decision to partner with Edmentum. Central Elementary uses Edmentum's learn-to-read program, Reading Eggs, for grades K–2 and Edmentum's individualized learning program Exact Path with NWEA™ MAP® Growth™ score integration and Study Island for grades 3–6.

To begin the implementation, the staff at Central Elementary received an overview training of the programs and, later, a full implementation consultation and training from Edmentum consultants. One of the teachers, the campus tech guru, had used Study Island in the past, so he led the setup of Study Island as soon as the school year started. For Exact Path, Central Elementary utilized MAP Growth scores as the diagnostic assessment, and each student received an Exact Path individualized learning path based on those results.

Students use the online programs mostly during enrichment time, which happens every day for about 45 minutes. Students rotate through different enrichments each day: P.E., ELA computer lab, math computer lab, and the library. Every student visits every enrichment at least once a week, and the ELA and math computer lab enrichment periods are when students use Reading Eggs, Study Island, and Exact Path. That means that all students were getting 45–90 minutes of online learning each week. Also, some teachers use Study Island as an assessment tool in their classrooms to help them monitor progress toward proficiency.

While students are building their skills through practice in Study Island, individualized learning in Exact Path, and reading and literacy activities in Reading Eggs, teachers use the data to inform their instruction. This data gathering is especially useful during the school's individualized learning/intervention period each day, known as “Tiger Time,” during which students receive small-group and one-on-one instruction based on their needs.

To help boost science proficiency, on Mondays, Tiger Time is devoted to science. For students in 4th and 5th grade, enrichment time comes directly after Tiger Time, so they receive targeted science instruction from their teachers, directly followed by standards-based science practice in Study Island.

Success: 

The success that Central Elementary has experienced in just one year has been phenomenal. Mr. Bost, Ms. Pilkington, and the rest of the faculty and staff have done what they set out to do, completely transform the school in regard to the energy, climate, and the academics. The academic improvements were first evidenced by the MAP Growth scores.

"When fall started, we probably ranked fourth or fifth in every subject and every grade out of the five [elementary schools] in our district," Mr. Bost relayed. But, by winter, Central Elementary had improved its ranking to number one in the district for NWEA MAP Growth scores for every subject and grade.

"Our growth, as a matter of fact, was so high, it was in the 99th percentile for grades 2 through 6 in every subject, and in grades K and 1, we had a couple that were in the 90th percentile," said Mr. Bost.
"NWEA, that was our first indication that, gosh, we're onto something special here. Then, of course, you have your state tests at the end of the school year. We were hoping to see the same results, and luckily, we did."

On the Mississippi Academic Assessment Program tests, which determine accountability ratings, math proficiency at Central Elementary grew from 32.3 percent proficient in 2017, which is about the state average, to 45.2 percent. ELA proficiency grew from 31.2 percent to 46.8 percent. In science, which is only tested in fifth grade, proficiency jumped from 71 percent to 83.3 percent. Additionally, on Mississippi's kindergarten readiness assessment, Renaissance Star Early Literacy®, scale scores improved from 708 in the spring of 2017 to 752 in the spring of 2018, and the growth from fall to spring on the kindergarten assessment for the 2017–18 school year was 253 points, placing the school in the top 10 percent in the state for overall scale scores and growth. With its great proficiency scores and outstanding growth, Central Elementary is poised to receive an A for its state accountability score, which is a new achievement for both the school and the district.

"We’ve never had an A-ranked elementary school in our district," said Ms. Pilkington. Central Elementary would be the first George County Elementary School to receive an A ranking in the history of the current ranking system.

The Future: 

Mr. Bost, Ms. Pilkington, and the faculty, staff, and students at Central Elementary School have proven that there are no limits to what can be achieved. The school plans to continue its rigorous academic programs and to continue rolling out new activities and clubs to keep students engaged, learning, and having fun at school.

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