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ECHS shows off its improvement plan
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Effingham County High School’s principal told school board members how his school has put in place its improvement plan.

ECHS Principal Yancy Ford said the entire student population was struggling with math and English when the process began. The school identified students in need and that allowed ECHS to identify its “bubble” students.

Ford said those students were assisted to help them pass the Georgia High School Graduation Test. Assistance included tutorials, credit recovery, pull out sessions and worked closely with the students.

“We implemented a benchmarking system so every four and a half weeks, our academic classes were providing a test,” Ford said “It was a common assessment, so all world history students would take that same common assessment after four and a half weeks. We’d get a good picture of what standards the kids haven’t mastered so that would help us if we needed to go back and re-teach before moving on.

“It’s not so different than if you are a basketball coach. If you’re trying to teach a kid how to dribble, you’ve got to do that before he’s a point guard,” he said. “School’s no different whenever you have a standard in a class they need to complete.”

He said administrators and department heads had walked through training, and they are spending more time in classrooms.

“We know there’s lots of issues that need to take place in the office,” Ford said, “and there’s fires that we do have to put out, but there’s nothing that can take away from that time that we can spend with those teachers and with those students helping them. Whether you go into a biology lab and join a group, or you go into take notes on the strategy that the teacher’s using so you can help them when you meet with them.”

Ford said the strategies and resources that are noted on the improvement plan have helped, but the school is now at the point the interventions only help the students who fall just below the proficient mark or just above that mark.

“We now made a commitment to get to that next level, our teachers have to do what we call standard grading,” he said “It doesn’t mean that our grading scales changed, but our teachers have to be able to provide an assessment that is applied directly to the standard that they taught. They need to be able to go back on a daily or weekly basis and determine if a child met that standard.”

He said if a student does not meet the standard, the teacher will set up differentiated instruction to get the student caught up.

“What we’ve done at Effingham County High School is we’ve tried to build relationships with kids, and we’ve tried to have those kids have a little bit of trust in us, and for us not to jump to conclusions if they’re having a bad day,” he said. “We want those kids to know they can come to us even if they’ve made a mistake before because they know we care about them.”

Ford said the school implemented a new program that was suggested by the retention specialist called “opportunity time.” He said every Thursday teachers turn in assignments that students have not completed to the retention specialist.

“That retention specialist calls that kid in, meets with that kid, and they have until Monday to bring that work in for partial credit,” he said. “Our goal is we want them to do the work. If they chose not to do that work then we have some things that we can put in place if they’re part of extracurriculars then we can take that away from them.”
Ford said the extracurricular can’t be as important as the assignment.

“I’m amazed at how fast that homework becomes important when they know they can’t go to baseball practice or basketball practice, whatever the case may be,” he said. “We take driving privileges away if they chose not to participate in opportunity time to make that work up.”

He said there are students who do not drive or participate in extracurricular activities.

“We give them the option of eating lunch on the stage with us in silence until they complete that work,” Ford said.

“They don’t like that, so we’ve had a lot of good success with that program, and we’re hoping to continue with that down the road.”

Ford said the school can’t have students practice and prepare for everything they will do in life, but they want to instill hard work, ownership and the will not give up to prepare them when they will need those skills later.

“There’s no magic pill,” he said.

The board has principals from the county’s schools talk about what’s going on in their school.

“This year we’re going to highlight a high school, a middle school and an elementary school, and talk about school improvement initiatives they have in their schools” Shearouse said.