Struggling School Comes Out On Top

5:57 PM, Sep 10, 2007   |    comments
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Greensboro, NC -- Low test scores, unhappy parents and a revolving door of administrators have been a recurring theme at Washington Elementary School. But this year is off to a much better start.

To fully appreciate the school's success, you first have to consider its challenges.

More than 98 percent of students are on the free lunch program and many live below the poverty level. Failing test scores prompted teachers to leave and parents to pull their kids out of the school.

But under the direction of a new principal, more than two years of hard work are finally paying off.

"Congratulations Washington Elementary School!" principal Dr. Grenita Lathan said to staff and students.

Everyone at Washington Elementary has a reason to celebrate.

"We are so excited that we made AYP!" Lathan said.

For the first time in five years, the school met both state and federal benchmarks.

"We are excited that we made ABC!" she said.

The school also made strides within their own district. "One of the 15 most improved schools in Guilford County!" she announced to teachers and students on Monday.

"The community felt that this was a failing school; parents felt it was a failing school; staff members felt it was a failing school," said Lathan.

The school was also in danger of being closed.

Enrollment dropped due to poor test scores, teacher turnover and an ever-changing administration.

"For my first year of teaching, I went through three principals," said Deanne Brook, who has been at the school for four years.

A former accountant, Brook is someone who appreciates order.

"Not having the structure coming down from above was a very different concept for me," she said.

Brook feels a teacher's impact in the classroom, and student success, are directly tied to management.

"The quality of the leadership makes a difference in the school," she said.

When you add community support, the difference is even bigger. "To our parents and also to our staff, thank you for sticking with us," said Lathan.

Enrollment at the school was at an all-time low last school year. This year, there are 35 new students and two new teachers.

As a School of Excellence, Washington Elementary will receive $8,000 to improve learning.

Lathan plans to use the money on technology, including an interactive white board, and vocabulary instruction.

When Lathan arrived at the school in January 2005, she immediately went to work addressing problems.

Here are some of her strategies for success:

1) Comprehensive School Reform: "We evaluated every instructional program that was being utilized at the time in the school. We looked to see if it fit the needs of the students that we were serving. We saw that it did not fit the needs," said Lathan, who then overhauled the school's program.

2) School-Wide Discipline Plan: Lathan and her staff teach students to "Respect themselves, respect others, respect learning and do the right thing," she said.

3) Lathan implemented a school-wide reading program to help students improve comprehension.

4) Intervention Team members became a fixture at the school.

5) Community Involvement: Volunteers from West Market Street United Methodist Church tutor students. Two days a week, 3rd through 5th graders spend two days a week in tutoring on the campus of N.C. A and T State University.

Washington Elementary will continue to honor their accomplishments next week.

The Celebration of Excellence is Wednesday, September 19. The annual event recognizes the 15 most improved schools in Guilford County.

WFMY News 2

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