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Five schools designated as 'distinguished'

By Greg Gelpi

There will be a little extra cash in the Christmas stockings of some local teachers.

Five Clayton and Henry county schools were recognized not only for academic success, but for continued success. That recognition includes more than $40,000 in bonuses for teachers and staff at Church Street Elementary School.

Church Street Elementary School and Morrow Elementary School were two of only 16 Title I schools in the state to make adequate yearly progress for four consecutive years. For their achievements, the state awarded each school a grant for $40,560.

Riverdale Elementary School, Hampton Elementary School and McDonough Elementary School received certificates for making adequate yearly progress for three consecutive years. They were among 150 Title I schools in the state to earn such a recognition.

Samuel Jackson, principal of Church Street Elementary, is rewarding his staff by divvying up the grant as bonuses for teachers, paraprofessionals and staff members, including school nutrition staff and custodians.

Success comes from knowing that every child can learn and every child can succeed, Jackson said.

"We feel that all students here at Church Street are capable of learning," he said. "We know that our school can compete with all schools in the state."

Despite Church Street's designation as a Title I school, Jackson said economics isn't a barrier to learning.

Schools are designated as Title I schools if a large portion of students receive free or reduced lunches.

Jackson attributed part of the success to parental involvment in their children's education, touting a Criterion Referenced Competency Test Night held Tuesday. More than 300 parents attended and took sample CRCT tests similar to the one students take, which helps determine adequate yearly progress.

"We have to get not only the teachers in the classroom involved, we have to get the community involved," Jackson said.

Morrow Elementary School Principal Jorinda Ryals said she and her team of school leaders will meet to determine how best to use the grant money to benefit the students.

Among items being considered, Ryals said her team may purchase electronic boards to help with instruction, as well as new and additional books for classroom libraries.

"Because our children read so much, they wear the books out, which is not a bad problem to have," she said. "Because they read so much, we have to continually add to the library."

Reading has been a focus at Morrow Elementary and is the foundation for success, Ryals said.

"Children can be successful regardless of where they come from," she said. "We know children cannot be successful if they do not learn to read. We want every child to be reading at grade level or above when they leave us."

A key component to learning to read is practice, Ryals said. A child can know how to ride a bike, but the child must actually ride a bike in order to become proficient.

The quality of his staff led to the success at Hampton Elementary School, Assistant Principal David Barber said.

"What I've seen is a real dedication to students," Barber said. "It's a fantastic environment. We're just committed to every student achieving and being successful."

The school incorporates phonics programs in lower grades and uses brain research on how children learn to reach students more effectively, he said.

Through collaboration, teachers coordinate their efforts, share ideas and plan their teaching schedules, Barber said.

Hampton Elementary also uses more one-on-one instruction by bringing in special Title I teachers into classrooms to provide assistance to regular classroom teachers.

Schools make adequate yearly progress by meeting several criteria, including success on the state's CRCT standardized test and meeting attendance standards.