Academy of Moore Making Academic Strides
Rising to the Occasion at The Academy of Moore
With end-of-grade tests in sight, The Academy of Moore County hopes to reap the benefits of academic growth more than a year after the charter school began its fight to remain open.
The school must meet its benchmark requirements on end-of-grade tests (EOGs) this week to receive a renewed charter from the state and remain open.
Last week, Pinecrest High School football coach Chris Metzger gave students an inspirational pep talk as they prepare for testing. He shared his own inspirational story about helping Pinecrest develop a successful football program, emphasizing that the key to success is having a positive attitude and staying focused on one’s goals.
“Each day when you wake up, you need to say, ‘I think I can,’” he said to the group of third- through eighth-graders.
Metzger told students that when they fully prepare for the tests, they also learn how to tackle bigger challenges in life.
“We don’t talk about winning games,” he said. “We talk about winning in the game of life. These tests are just one little thing that you have to focus on.”
Metzger explained that the tests are just stepping stones in the path toward achieving individual goals.
“You need to be prepared when you come to school, so you need to start planning ahead,” he said. “Eat right. Sleep right, and the last thing, do right. By studying and getting those habits, you’re going to be able to make a difference and get excited about it.”
As students headed back to their classrooms, they talked about Metzger’s advice.
“He taught us how you need to be ready for the EOGs when they come,” sixth-grader Morgan Marumbe said. “You have to try not to be scared and be positive.”
Fourth-grader Davion Morrison said he feels “awesome” about taking the upcoming tests. He remembers doing well on the tests last year, and he is confident that he will have no problem taking tests next week.
His classmates Justin Goins and Joseph Knight both admit that they are a little nervous about taking the tests, but they believe in Metzger’s advice — preparation is the key to doing well.
“Fourth grade is challenging, but if you think you can, you can do it,” Goins said.
Knight added, “It’s all about how much work you put into it.”
Since the beginning of the year, teachers and students have been preparing with one goal in mind: to improve academically.
Last year, The Academy faced closure when the State Board of Education denied renewing the school’s charter, citing a lack of academic growth in previous years. The decision was made despite a recommendation for charter renewal from the N.C. Office of Charter Schools.
After demonstrating significant academic growth on EOGs for the 2009-2010 year, the school and the State Board of Education reached a resolution that would allow The Academy to renew its charter if it meets benchmark requirements at the end of this year.
The school must either meet its annual expected growth goal for this year based on the state’s ABCs of Education or demonstrate at least 70 percent proficiency on end-of-grade tests.
Last year, the school increased its proficiency from 46.1 percent to slightly more than 70 percent of students performing at or above grade level.
‘Earn Your Way’
Director of Education Allyson Schoen believes students will rise to the occasion when they take tests this week.
She said that though nerves are a natural part of taking any test, the school’s approach to improving test scores has been a proactive effort to make students feel confident in their abilities to perform.
“[The students] look at it as something that’s going to make the teachers and this school better,” she said. “The amount of pressure was unbearable last year. It’s so nice this year not to be worried about it.”
The school has worked to create a positive atmosphere by implementing some principles of “The Leader in Me” program, based on Stephen Covey’s “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.”
The program presents principle-centered approaches for problem solving and works to instill responsibility and leadership skills in students.
Maggie Dougherty, the school’s curriculum facilitator, said that by implementing this kind of character development in every aspect of school, students are able to realize the value in their efforts.
“The kids are much more focused,” she said. “They’re on task and responding to the teachers and other children. A lot of behavior has changed this year.”
Students are recognized as leaders throughout the day as they perform various responsibilities.
Every morning, four to six students serve as “greeter leaders,” who welcome parents and students to school with a handshake and a smile.
Students also lead the school in the Pledge of Allegiance every morning, along with a leader’s pledge that says, “Leadership is doing the right thing even when no one is watching.”
Suzanne Dunn, a fourth- and fifth-grade language arts and social studies teacher, said she incorporates leadership in the classroom by asking her students to evaluate the character qualities of the people they study. She said she also spends a lot of time talking to students about how their decisions now can affect their future success.
“We talk about college a lot,” she said. “To get there, you have to do well here. I’m constantly telling my students that the habits you form now will be the habits you take with you.”
Schoen said she believes that the leadership program has helped redirect student attitudes toward schoolwork, and she hopes that students will use these skills to become productive citizens.
“People today think they are entitled,” she said. “[Our students] need to learn that you have to earn your way. You need to be productive and you need to work hard. Just showing up for work doesn’t entitle you to a big bonus. Employers want proactive people.”
Schoen added that the “baby steps” taken with the initial implementation of “The Leader in Me” have improved academic performance by altering students’ approach to learning.
“Attitude is everything,” she said.
Dropping Middle Grades
The same mindset applies to the faculty at The Academy.
Schoen said she has seen her staff bond together under Covey’s principles to promote a synergy in which everyone at the school benefits from teamwork.
“We all realize it is a win-win situation when everyone works together for the greater whole,” she said.
The school is trying to raise $15,000 to cover the costs of staff development and purchasing the necessary materials to fully implement the program next year.
In addition to the emphasis on character development, the school has also provided students with extra academic support by offering Saturday school twice a month as a voluntary option for the past seven months.
Schoen said that more than 50 percent of kids, who will test next week, have attended Saturday school regularly, and parents have been very complimentary of the additional support.
Gail Cunningham, a remediation teacher at The Academy, said all the efforts to help the school succeed have culminated in an atmosphere of positive support for students.
“I feel they think that we believe in them,” she said.
While teachers and students make sure all their bases are covered for testing, the administration at The Academy is also preparing for what comes next after the school receives a renewed charter.
Last month, the school’s board of directors received approval from the state to drop grades six through eight in an amendment to the school’s charter, allowing the school to become a K-5 elementary school.
Schoen said the decision to cut the middle school program was based on the fact that the school currently does not have the resources or the enrollment numbers to offer students an authentic middle school experience, which should include a wider range of extracurricular activities, such as athletics and band.
“Middle school students need a middle school setting,” she said. “We don’t have that here. Students need at least a group or a common bond heading into a big high school.”
This year’s eighth-grade class consists of three students, who will attend different high schools after they graduate.
Schoen added that the change will not affect class sizes, and teachers at the middle school level will transition to teach the same subjects in lower grades.
The school’s enrollment will remain capped at 210 students.
Dropping its middle school program is a big change for The Academy, which was originally founded as MAST charter school in 1997 to serve middle school students with a focus on math, arts, science and technology.
Schoen said that since 2005, when the school went to K-8, the school’s student demographics have gradually become more K-5 oriented.
“Our elementary program is going to grow,” she said. “There really isn’t room for both, and I think [the middle school students] need that separate setting.”
In addition to confining its programs at the elementary level, The Academy also intends to transition to a year-round program during the 2012-2013 academic year.
Schoen has also expressed hopes of working with Wes Graner, principal of the county’s other charter school, STARS, to coordinate a partnership between the two schools.
STARS, which began its EOG testing last Wednesday, must improve its test scores to remain open and receive a new charter as well.
Schoen and Graner have spoken frequently over the past few months about what is working in their respective schools as both work to improve academics.
Schoen says she’ll be thinking about the faculty and students of STARS this week, and she looks forward to working with the school after it overcomes this academic hurdle.
“It’s a shame that it took all of this for us to come together, but I think a lot of good things can come out of it,” she said.
Schoen sees all of these changes as a new adventure for The Academy as she and her staff work to provide students the benefits of a private school in a public school setting.
“This is no longer a school of last resort,” she said. “Everyone is here because they want to be here.”
Contact Hannah Sharpe at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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