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Morrow Elementary named 'School of Excellence'

Morrow Elementary School Principal Tim Foster says his teaching staff's dedication to education is the main reason why his 510-student school receives so many academic accolades.

Last month, the school received a platinum award from the Governor's Office of Student Achievement for having some of the largest improvements, in the state, on standardized tests. The Georgia Department of Education also recently named it as a Georgia Title I Distinguished School, for making Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) for 10 consecutive years.

This week, the state's education department honored Morrow Elementary School again –– naming it as one of 22 Georgia Schools of Excellence for 2010.

"We're very proud to have that distinction," Foster said. "All of this is because of our teachers, who are very focused on instruction, identifying the needs of their students, and making sure those needs are met."

Morrow was recognized, according to a news release from the state's education department, for having the 13th Congressional District's largest continuous gains over a three-year period on the math and reading sections of the Criterion-Referenced Competency Tests (CRCTs).

In a written statement, State Schools Superintendent John Barge used all of the Georgia Schools of Excellence as examples of what schools can provide, when they focus on their core mission of educating children. "These schools are showing that excellence can be achieved when they are focused on providing a world-class education for their students," Barge said. "I offer my sincere congratulations to our 2010 Georgia Schools of Excellence."

The Georgia Department of Education's web site shows that 89.4 percent of students at Morrow Elementary met or exceeded state standards on the math section of the CRCTs during the 2009-2010 school year. That is a 15.7 percentage point increase from the 2007-2008 school year.

The web site also shows that 92.3 percent of the students met or exceeded state standards on the reading/language arts section of the CRCTs last year, which is up 2.4 points from the 2007-2008 school year.

Foster described Morrow Elementary as a "bell-to-bell school," with teachers beginning their lessons as soon as the first school bell rings at 7:45 a.m., every day, and going until the final bell rings at 2:15 p.m.

The principal said the school has been able to improve student achievement through small-group, and individualized instruction, having teachers work together in collaborative fashion, and instituting reading and math remediation programs every Tuesday and Thursday. Improvement plans are developed for each student, so teachers know where to focus remediation efforts with individual pupils.

"We look at our data all of the time, and we are constantly trying to figure out ways to improve our test scores," Foster said.

Every Georgia School of Excellence will receive a $1,000 check from Georgia Natural Gas, according to the state's news release. Foster said the prize money will likely be used to buy new resources for his school's media center. He said the school puts a heavy focus on reading, with students reading more than 40,000 books during the 2009-2010 school year. He also said the school's media center has a circulation of 12,000 books per month.

"We really push reading here," he said. "We had one fifth-grade class last year that read 6,000 books, so our goal for this year is to have every class read at least 6,000 books."

Clayton County School Superintendent Edmond Heatley said, in a written statement, that he commended the staff at Morrow Elementary. He added that the award is a sign that the school system's dedication to a more rigorous curriculum is paying off. "The district is extremely pleased with the achievement of these students and staff," Heatley said. "We are committed to achieving this level of excellence for all of our students."