New Start: Academy Hopes to Build on Momentum
Wednesday's first day of school at The Academy of Moore County signified a new beginning for students and teachers coming through the doors.
The start of the new school year is refreshing for everyone who endured two long years to see the charter school's academic strides bear the possibility of something more than just improved test scores.
Because The Academy made high academic growth on the ABCs of Public Education last year and met federal standards for Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP), the school received a new charter from the N.C. State Board of Education this summer.
The Academy had to meet this condition or demonstrate at least 70 percent of its students performing at proficiency on end-of-grade tests to renew its charter, according to a settlement that the school reached with the state last summer.
The school scored 77.4 percent proficiency this year, up from 70.1 percent last year.
In 2010, the State Board of Education cited poor academic performance in previous years when it denied The Academy's application for a new charter, despite the N.C. Office of Charter Schools' recommendation for renewal.
The school challenged the state board's ruling. After students increased test scores dramatically, going from 46.1 percent to 70.1 percent for the 2009-2010 year, the state and The Academy reached a resolution, allowing the school to remain open by meeting the academic benchmarks.
Now, with the weight of the state off their shoulders, Gail Cunningham, the school's leadership coordinator, says everyone at The Academy can get back to its main focus.
"We don't have to fight anymore," she said. "We can do what we're supposed to do. We're able to do what our mission is - developing tomorrow's leaders today."
Director of Education Allyson Schoen says she hopes to take the momentum of last year's success and channel it into a schoolwide effort to take The Academy to the next level.
"I was so proud of what we accomplished with AYP and the ABCs [last year]," she said. "Realistically, that was a tremendous amount of growth in one year with a lot of new students [that came in]. This year, we're not talking test scores. It's going to happen naturally. I'm about the whole child. There's a great big wonderful world out there, and kids need to be prepared."
Teachers and staff were at the school last Friday preparing for Wednesday's start of classes.
As Schoen worked in her office, she found herself reflecting on how far the school has come in the years since the school relocated from Southern Pines to its $2.2 million facility in Aberdeen on U.S. 15-501.
Though she's not talking test scores this year, the number "84" is written in the upper left-hand corner on the dry-erase board above her desk.
She still has her eye on academic growth, and she credits the progress to the collective motivation of her staff.
"It's just stepped up," she said. "We have moved so far, and it's because of the staff and people who are here. People are not just here to earn a paycheck. This isn't just a job. It's a commitment."
'Leader in Me'
By 8 a.m. Wednesday, students were sitting in the school's multi-purpose room for an assembly to kick off the year as "student leaders."
This year, The Academy is fully immersing students and staff in "The Leader in Me" program, based on Stephen Covey's "The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People." The program develops leadership qualities by promoting self-discipline and responsibility and encourages cooperative approaches to problem-solving.
The morning gathering will be part of the daily routine for the entire school. Students and faculty will recite the Pledge of Allegiance, along with the school pledge, and discuss how everyone can be a good leader throughout the day.
The Academy saw significant progress last year when staff implemented some elements of the leadership program. Students were more engaged in the classroom, and the overall atmosphere at school was more positive.
Over the summer, teachers and staff went through training for the program, and Cunningham and three other representatives from the school recently attended the Leader in Me Global Education Summit in California, Pa.
"We started with ourselves, because you've got to walk the walk to talk the talk," Cunningham said.
Instead of hitting the books, students will spend the first week of school working with teachers to learn the "Leader in Me" framework, discussing the seven habits and how to apply them to life at school.
By allocating time to lay this foundation, Cunning-ham believes students will be able to move forward with a general understanding of the tolerant and cooperative atmosphere The Academy wants to cultivate.
"It helps prevent conflicts that may arise," she said. "When you become a leader, you become a different person. If students view themselves as leaders, they're going to want to do the right thing, and you're going to have other children around them to guide them."
Cunningham said students develop leadership qualities when they learn to take responsibility for small tasks, such as passing out papers or holding the door for classmates.
"Children take in the concepts and learn self-discipline and cooperation," she added. "Giving them simple duties can be monumental."
Drop Middle Grades
The "Leader in Me" approach to learning is one of several changes for The Academy this year.
The school's board of directors cut the middle school program at the end of last year, citing a low enrollment for grades six through eight and a lack of programs for middle school students.
"We evolved into an elementary school when we moved to this site," Schoen said. "Kindergarten exploded down here, and it has trickled up the way. The word got out about us."
Though its kindergarten classes are at capacity, the school is still accepting students in other grades. The school's enrollment is capped at 210 students.
"Most parents understood that the children needed more [middle school] programs for when they get to high school," Schoen added. "Just to find their niche. That way, they walk into the high schools knowing there is a place for them. I think parents were more concerned about leaving the culture here."
Schoen said The Academy plans to keep up with its students who will be in traditional public schools this year to make sure they are adjusting well to the change.
Along with the elementary format, school started a little earlier this year as The Academy prepares to implement a year-round program for the 2012-2013 year.
"It's basically to address summer loss," Schoen said. "I think with these breaks, not only will people be rejuvenated, but we are also going to see a lot more growth and keep that energy alive."
After the assembly, Marcie Locklear, a newly minted third-grader, was crouched down at her locker, unpacking a box of fresh school supplies for the year.
Locklear looks forward to learning new things this year, especially math.
"Math is awesome," she said with a shy smile. "I love math, and I'm very good at it."
Locklear came to The Academy last year from a primary school in Scotland County, where she said she wasn't doing well academically.
"There I was having a hard time," she said. "When I came here, I started doing better."
Contact Hannah Sharpe at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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