By Heather Mullinix
Frank P. Brown Elementary School has been named the top middle school in Tennessee by the State Collaborative on Reforming Education for dramatically improving student achievement.
"I would love to have a pedestal case in the lobby," said Principal Christie Thompson. "Our students, our faculty, our staff, our whole community earned this. "
Assistant Principal Kari Rockwell added, "It's for everybody. We don't want to lock it up in a closet. It's beautiful. We want it to be out there as a constant reminder of how far we've come, and that we're not done. There's always room to go further."
The award was announced Monday night at a special event that included more than 1,000 educators, parents, students and other stakeholders. Dr. Bill Frist, founder of SCORE and former U.S. Senate Majority Leader, was the host for the event, while Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam and SCORE President and CEO Jamie Woodson spoke at the event.
"Our prize winners and finalists have shown that it is possible to prepare all of our students to be successful in college and the workforce," said Frist. "The stories we heard from teachers, principals, district leaders, students and other stakeholders are powerful. And they are proof points for what works."
SCORE looks at three years worth of testing data for academic achievement, academic growth, attendance and socio-economic factors to determine three finalists in each of the prize areas: elementary schools, middle schools, high schools and districts. Brown Elementary competed in the middle school category because it is a kindergarten through eighth-grade school.
The school has achieved a particularly high performance in TCAP science, with a three-year average of 84 percent of students rated proficient or advanced. The state average is 60 percent.
After finalists were named, schools submitted close to 60 pieces of documentation to SCORE and hosted a team for a site visit. During that day, the team evaluated the school on everything from curb appeal to what students had to say in focus groups. They also heard from parents, faculty, staff, administration and district-wide administrators.
"They looked at everything and they wanted to know how we had made these accomplishments," Thompson said.
Rockwell said, "SCORE backs up everything they say with documentation. They reviewed us thoroughly and they helped us to prove what we already knew."
The road to "how" this happened was a long road. It's on display in the main hallway of the school, where the school's academic data is shown from the 2009-'10 school year to where they are now, to where they hope to be soon. In 2007, the school ranked 486 in elementary schools across the state, according to the Education Consumers Foundation. This past year, the school was number one. The 2009 data shows where students were scoring on achievement and growth.
"We were at the bottom of the bottom on both academic achievement and growth," Thompson said.
Over the next few years, those graphs and charts started to move. Academic achievement started to improve, but there were also significant gains in academic growth, which spurred greater growth in academic achievement.
The data from the Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program tests are analyzed, down to the individual classroom, so that each teacher can know the skills each student needs to work on to improve achievement and to become proficient and advanced in a subject.
Along the hallways, charts show where the grade level was at the year before and how many students need to be proficient and advanced this year in order to make the new, higher goals set by the state.
"It's a roadmap," Thompson explained. "If you're going on a trip, you want to know where you're going and have a plan on how to get there. Education shouldn't be any different."
Rockwell added the individual grade-level charts helped spur students to do their best.
"They want to be a part of that number," she said. "This is a reminder of what we're working toward and it helps to get the conversation started."
Both administrators said the gains were the result of hard work, discipline and setting high expectations.
"We bring out what has always been there inside of all the kids and the faculty and staff and help them see their full potential," Rockwell said.
She praised Thompson for her leadership and building a strong team to take the tools available and to help achieve this success.
"This happens by having a team with extremely high expectations," Rockwell said.
Thompson added, "It's also holding students accountable for those expectations."
"We've believed and known the whole time that they could be at the top of the game," Rockwell said. "We all have different levels of self-confidence, and it's been about building that self-confidence, not only academically but socially and emotionally. We wanted to make sure our students had every possible tool we could put in their hands."
The school uses a number of methods to help students who may need a little extra help in a particular class or skill. Before school, students can get help in any subject from a teacher on duty beginning at 7 a.m. After school, there is in-depth tutoring offered from 3 to 5 p.m., with snacks and transportation offered. During the school day, there is Response to Intervention, which can include a number of methods to help support individual students with their individual needs.
All of their efforts are focused on helping students do their best and to prepare them for college or careers. This year, the theme is Crayons to College, and the T-shirts feature the colleges and universities attended by the faculty members. That's helped start kids thinking about what school they'd like to attend down the road and what type of career they would be interested in.
There's a focus on real-world examples, too, and tying classwork, and behavior, to real-world examples. The community is a big help with that.
"We're in the heart of a retirement community," said Thompson, who praised the many volunteers who work in individual classrooms, in small groups, or one-on-one with students.
"We have retired business leaders of companies who volunteer their time," added Rockwell. "They use their real-world examples."
Rockwell hopes the success at Brown Elementary inspires and spurs student achievement across the county.
There will be a formal presentation of a SCORE banner, which will be displayed at the school, in the near future. That will also be when the school hears feedback from the SCORE team on its site visit and ideas for new programs or areas of focus.
"I love getting feedback. I want to know how to be the best we can be," Thompson said.
There is also a $10,000 monetary prize to the school. No decision has been made yet on how those funds will be utilized. Thompson and Rockwell are collecting ideas from students, parents, faculty and staff before determining how to best use the money.
Other schools honored include Norman Smith Elementary, a pre-kindergarten-grade five school in the Clarksville-Montgomery County School System; Covington High in Tipton County; and Trousdale County Schools.