Two Clayton schools earn recognition

By Greg Gelpi

An addiction to reading has helped one county school earn state recognition. The state recognized two Clayton County schools as Title I Distinguished Schools for fiscal year 2004.

Morrow Elementary and Church Street Elementary schools were honored by the state Department of Education for making Adequate Yearly Progress for three consecutive years.

"We've always been pretty successful," David Head, who has been Morrow Elementary principal for 21 years and has 37 years in education, said. "I'm not a rookie at this."

At the core of the school's success has been the staff's ability to spark an interest in reading in its students.

"Reading is like junk food to them," Marsha Crowder, the school's literacy coach, said. "They can't get enough."

Last year, the school of 586 students read 70,942 books, and so far they have 40,625 read this year as part of "The Head's up Reading Club."

The challenge was getting the students hooked, Crowder said. Students now flock to the library and beg for the school to buy more books. When students get off the bus in the morning, they have books in their hands, and students have even missed the bus in the afternoon because they were busy checking out more books.

"Every penny that we get we put into the library," she said. "Even the money from the Coke machine goes into the library."

As part of Morrow's "balanced literacy" program, the school requires each student to spend three hours a day in reading and language arts classes, Head said.

"Here everything is literacy driven," Crowder said. "There's not a lot of time to get off task."

Her passion for reading is contagious, she said. It's important for teachers to have such enthusiasm because students aren't interested if teachers aren't interested.

"Our goal is to have them reading by the time they leave kindergarten," Crowder said. "I have a personal goal to make a difference with every student I teach. I really believe that we can excel in the area of literacy if we have all the pieces in place."

One of those pieces, she said, is Morrow Elementary's principal. Head knows what happens in the classroom and takes an active part in promoting literacy. Once a month, he reads to the children himself through closed-circuit television.

"I just think you need to have a strong literacy program," Head said. "The reading and writing is so crucial to everything you learn."

Although the school focuses on reading and writing, Head said that success carries over to other subjects, such as math, as well.

Church Street Elementary has also instituted programs to increase literacy. Many of the school's programs bring parents and families into the education of the children.

Schools that have maintained Adequate Yearly Progress for more than three years received cash awards to be put toward education.

The State Board of Education also gave more than $5.7 million to 68 schools in its Pay for Performance program. No school in Clayton County received a share of this funding.

The program requires schools to set and reach educational goals. The 68 schools went the "extra mile" in setting and reaching goals, according to the Department of Education.