By Curt Yeomans
Administrators, parents, teachers and staff at E.W. Oliver Elementary have been working since last June to convert the school into a charter school.
Oliver became Clayton County's first conversion charter school on Monday
with unanimous approval from the nine-member Clayton County Board of Education.
"We're very excited," said Ron Boykins, the principal at Oliver. "It's all about the students. Our goal is to be the top math and science school in the nation. In order to reach that goal, we needed some flexibility to teach in a way that works best for the students. Now, we get an opportunity to implement the strategies and programs that we've developed."
Parents of students who attend the school said the conversion is a chance to create change in Clayton County. "We're just grateful for the opportunity to be a voice of change in the academic achievement of our students," said Zelda Underwood, whose daughters, Nailah and Zoè, are third- and fourth-graders at Oliver, respectively.
"We're ready to get everybody on board at the school," said Miranda Malone, whose sons, Taylor, Tyler and Aaron, attend Oliver. "Our children are more intelligent than we think they are."
Oliver routinely meets Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) requirements.
A conversion charter school is different from other charter schools, such as Lewis Academy of Excellence and Unidos Dual Language Charter School, which were created as charter schools. A conversion school begins as a traditional school and is later changed to charter status, because parents, administrators and teachers believe the transformation will allow greater academic freedom.
Math and science are the academic subjects targeted by the Riverdale school. Oliver's emphasis in the two areas has produced local and national acclaim. At the beginning of the school year, Oliver students outperformerd their counterparts from an elementary school in North Carolina. In March, the school hosted, and won, many honors at its annual Mathfest.
Having all students on the same level of math competency will help Oliver compete against other schools in math. Last month, 120 Oliver students went to McDonough's East Lake Elementary School for a math competition. Oliver's second graders outpaced their East Lake counterparts by a score of 160-51. Oliver's third graders outscored their East Lake's third graders, 216-114.
Principal Boykins said the two teaching strategies that Oliver will implement are the Singapore system of math, and Saxon phonics. Singapore math involves a lot of pictures, which can help students, who struggle with non-visual forms of education, succeed in math, Boykins said. He also said the school has previously tried Saxon phonics, but had to abandon the method a few years ago when the school system decided to use a uniform method of teaching language arts to children.
Boykins said the school will begin using the Singapore math method this month as a pilot program for students who are not in Oliver's AP math program, where students are one grade level ahead of their peers in math. Forty percent of the school's population (735 students, excluding kindergartners) participate in the school's AP math program.
Boykins' goal is use the Singapore pilot program to get all of Oliver's students on equal footing in math.
"We encourage our students to be competitive," he said. "The only way these students will know how good they truly are, is if they participate in competitions. I have full confidence in these students. They can stand against anybody."