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Clements' progress honored

COVINGTON — State Superintendent of Schools Kathy Cox recently honored a Newton County middle school at the State Department of Education for improving low-performance scores.

Earlier this month, Sylvia Jordan, former principal of Clements Middle School, and 16 other principals from state-directed schools in Georgia traveled to Atlanta to accept a certificate after having their schools removed from the state's Needs Improvement list.

"Many of these once very low-performing schools are experiencing incredible gains in student achievement," Cox said in a press release.

Since 2001, under the federal No Child Left Behind Act, schools that don't meet Adequate Yearly Progress — as determined by state test scores, attendance and other factors — are placed on the state's Needs Improvement list. If schools remain on the list, they may be required to offer another school choice for their students to attend and a special curriculum for students who stay.

To be removed from the list, a school must make AYP for two consecutive years.

This year, Clements, now named Liberty, Middle School and 16 other schools in Georgia came off the list after doing so. Because of this, Georgia was one of six states mentioned in a recent report published by the Center on Educational Policy, "Improving Low Performing Schools: Lessons from Five Years of Studying School Restructuring under No Child Left Behind," which discussed Georgia's restructuring of schools in severe Needs Improvement cases.

"I was thrilled," Jordan said Tuesday about the state's honor. "It was wonderful to be recognized by the superintendent and state Board (of Education). It was a lot of hard work and not easy."

Jordan, who served as principal at Clements from 2002 until 2008 after serving as a counselor and in other positions in the Newton County School System since 1996, said the school had to focus on the new Georgia Performance Standards curriculum and research other school systems in Georgia and throughout the country. Jordan said the school had to test what worked for them and what could carry over to Clements, which had a high rate of students receiving free and reduced lunches.

The state placed state directors in each school to implement strategies and policies to improve student success and provide training and professional development for teachers, academic coaches and administrators.

"We had to ... try new ideas ... and think outside the box," said Jordan, who now works as an assistant principal at Newton High School over the Career, Technical and Agricultural Education Department.

After five years of the school not making AYP, Clements made AYP in 2008 and 2009, removing it from the Needs Improvement list.

"Each of these schools had several factors in common that helped them come ‘off the list,'" Cox said. "They had a great principal who focused on instruction and provided job-embedded professional development. The teachers worked closely with each other to share lesson plans and strategies. And, each of these schools renewed its focus on teaching rigorous state standards to all students with an understanding of students' individual needs."