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Arnold Elementary named as state School of Excellence

By Trina Trice

J.W. Arnold Elementary School is one of nine elementary schools in the state to be chosen recently as a 2003 School of Excellence by the Georgia Department of Education.

Since 1984, school districts throughout the state are encouraged to nominate one elementary, middle, and high school to be considered for the honor.

Arnold Elementary School, with more than 470 students, is the first Clayton County school to earn the School of Excellence honor twice. The school received the award in 1991.

The application process is extensive, said Faith Duncan, principal of Arnold Elementary School.

The School of Excellence program focuses on several areas, such as student focus and support; school organization and culture; challenging standards and curriculum; active teaching and learning; professional community; leadership and educational vitality; school, family, and community partnerships; and indicators of success.

"This school is full of committed, dedicated, and conscientious staff people all the way from administrators down to paraprofessionals, to the janitorial staff," said Kathleen Kennel, third-grade teacher at Arnold Elementary School.

Duncan considers the school's "Eagle's Nest" program to be essential to the school's success.

"Eagle's Nest" is a parent and community volunteer program.

"It's sort of like one of those neighborhood schools in which everyone takes an interest in everyone else's child," Duncan said.

Dixie Palmer, coordinator of the parent volunteer program and parent of an Arnold Elementary School second-grader, works half days at the school twice a week.

"I think it's very important for you to be involved in your children's life," Palmer said. "School is a big part of their lives. It's important to know their friends ? I've been fortunate enough to not have to work. Any love you can give your children is important."

Every Tuesday morning, teachers leave tasks, such as organizing and preparing materials used in classroom instruction, for volunteering parents to complete.

Once a month the school sponsors a family reading night, too.

"You will see parents sitting on the floor reading to children; it's a really nice thing," Duncan said. "I think it's a big, big plus for Arnold. I feel really thankful for that. It's hard to get people involved these days."

Parent Brent Barnhouse isn't at all surprised Arnold Elementary School has been named a School of Excellence.

"We've had all three of our kids here," Barnhouse said. "We've been very impressed from the very beginning of the genuine care they seem to have for kids. They have a nurturing atmosphere and they drive the kids, they push them."

Barnhouse credits the school with sparking his son Jacob Barnhouse's interest in reading.

"The biggest thing is his teacher has really turned him into a reading machine," Barnhouse said. "She's done a great job. He looks forward to it, like it's a competition."

Jacob, a fifth-grader, credits the school's honor to the "good attitude of the students" and admits he does like to read, especially non-fiction books.

Third-grader Danielle Currin thinks the students and the teachers make Arnold Elementary School the best school in Georgia. She said she hopes the school receives a trophy.

"I believe the teachers and the students work very hard to be the best they can be," said Jane Waller, first-grade teacher at Arnold Elementary School. "This honor helps the county. It shows a very good light of what our school system can be. It's just nice for the parents to see we're doing a good job."

In December 2002, a panel of educators reviewed each nominee. The reviewers participated in a training session in order to ensure a higher degree of quality and consistency in rating applications. Each school's application was read and evaluated by individuals who signed assurances indicating that they had no connection with the school in question. In March, reviewers conducted site visits and evaluated each school against the available performance data in the department that indicated whether significant improvement had been made.

"Being selected as a Georgia School of Excellence is one of the highest honors our public schools can receive," said Kathy Cox, state superintendent. "These schools are models of excellence for Georgians to follow; they demonstrate the possibilities we can achieve when students, teachers, administrators, and parents work together to ensure that every child receives a quality education. I commend them for their hard work and dedication."

The 20 winners will be honored in May at a banquet hosted by Cox.

The Elementary Schools of Excellence for 2003 are: Frank Long Elementary School, Liberty County; Northside Elementary School, Houston County; Smoke Rise Elementary School, Dekalb County; Woodland Elementary School, Fulton County; A. L. Burruss Elementary School, Marietta City; Buford Elementary School, Buford City; Central Elementary School, Carroll County; Jack P. Nix Primary School, White County; J. W. Arnold Elementary School, Clayton County.

The Middle Schools of Excellence for 2003 are: Feagin Mill Middle School, Houston County; Bleckley County Middle School, Bleckley County; Hightower Trail Middle School, Cobb County; Fayette Middle School, Fayette County; Otwell Middle School, Forsyth County.

The High Schools of Excellence for 2003 are: Tri-Cities High School, Fulton County; Marietta High School, Marietta City; Paulding County High School, Paulding; Alexander High School, Douglas County; Lafayette High School, Walker County; Coosa High School, Floyd County.