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NCSS hopes to fix issues after AYP blow
Schools prepping to keep off Needs Improvement list

COVINGTON - For the past two school years, the Newton County School System has failed to meet the requirements of Adequate Yearly Progress under the federal No Child Left Behind Act after previously meeting it for three consecutive years.

Schools that don't meet AYP for two consecutive years may be placed on the state's Needs Improvement list, which eventually may require them to offer supplementary services and also a secondary school choice for students.

However, systems that don't meet AYP for consecutive years don't automatically go on the state's Needs Improvement list.

"System-level AYP is a little different" than school-level AYP, said Dana Tofig, director of communications for the Georgia Department of Education.

To determine if a system will be put on the Needs Improvement list, performance in grades three through eight and grade 11 is examined to see if goals were met in those grades for two consecutive years.

"To be in Needs Improvement as a system, you don't make Adequate Yearly Progress in the same area for two consecutive years," Tofig said.

That is not the case for Newton County.

"We aren't in Needs Improvement," said Sherri Viniard, director of public relations for NCSS. "A school district is placed in Needs Improvement if the same grade spans in the same subjects don't meet goals for two consecutive years, and that didn't happen with our system. The grade spans of three through eight and high school (grade 11) did not meet goals in math in the 2007-08 (school year). The high school level did, however, meet the goals in math for the 2008-09 (school year), so the district is not in Needs Improvement. We showed improvement but didn't quite make AYP this year."

NCSS Superintendent Steven Whatley said officials have taken steps to improve student performance, including implementing the Georgia Assessment of Performance on School Standards analysis, which has a team of educators review a school's performance on the state's school standards to provide feedback and add needed programs.

"We have also strengthened our professional learning program for our teachers by concentrating on the redelivery of Learning Focused Schools Strategies, technology and math and reading for the exceptional child," Whatley said. "Our (Southern Association of Colleges and Schools accreditation) visit was also very beneficial and gave us much needed information we can and are using to improve our schools and district. We have emphasized the importance of parent involvement, and this year we will be participating in the national Be There program, as we know that parent involvement is a key indicator of student success."

C.C. Bates, chair of the Newton County Board of Education, said once final AYP results are issued, which usually happens in September, she plans to ask for a report on specific programs that were implemented to improve test scores to see which ones helped increase student test scores.

Although the school system is not on the state's Needs Improvement list this year, officials are expected to make improvements to make sure the students and scores don't fall behind and continue to lag.

Bates said the school system will continue to move forward.

"Moving forward means focusing on those children who did not meet the standards, but it also includes pushing those that met the standards to ultimately exceed the standards and to continue to challenge those at a higher level that exceeded the standards initially," she said Wednesday.

She said moving forward also may mean looking outside the county to other school systems that consistently meet and exceed state standards.

Neighboring Rockdale and Walton public school systems met AYP this year; all of Rockdale's schools met AYP, while two of Walton County's schools failed to meet AYP on the initial report. Social Circle City Schools also had all four of its schools meet AYP, as did its system as a whole. About 84 percent of Henry County public schools and 97 percent of Gwinnett County Public Schools made AYP, but their systems as a whole did not.

"I would love to see our system find similar schools with like demographics that are consistently meeting and exceeding the standards," Bates said. "Once these schools are identified, I think it would be valuable for a team of teachers and administrators to visit and study what makes them successful."

She also hopes schools in Newton County, as well as other counties, that met AYP share their action steps.

For example, "a recent initiative that was implemented at Veterans (Memorial Middle School in Covington) involved research-based instructional strategies from the University of Kansas. These strategies were taught at Veterans by Jean Austin," Bates said. "I am sure this was not the only reason Veterans made AYP, but it played a part."

Bates said all of the schools have to work together to be successful as a whole.

"I think a team approach is important, and that means teachers and principals need the opportunity to collaborate not only within the schools but across schools as well," she said.

Michelle Floyd can be reached at michelle.floyd@newtoncitizen.com.