Harvest initiated program bring educators from around the country to generate ideas for the improvement of K -12 education

January 21, 2004

Bulletin Staff Writer

Poverty stricken students, falling enrollment and budget shortfalls are problems shared by countless school systems across the nation -- Henry County and Martinsville included.

On Tuesday, consultants from once-struggling Southern schools told local educators to keep their collective chin up and streamline their curriculums to meet national standards to ensure student success in the face of such challenges.

The Harvest Foundation sponsored a series of professional development workshops and education seminars at Martinsville High School all day Tuesday. During this "education summit," more than 1,000 teachers and administrators from the Martinsville and Henry County schools systems and Carlisle School attended more than a dozen strategy sessions on teaching reading and math.

The event's two major presentations -- a San Diego, Calif., administrator's opening speech on the power of teachers and a presentation on how a Texas school system turned around its test scores -- both touched on boosting scores and classroom morale in the face of economic adversity.

Alma Hills, a San Diego elementary school principal and former teacher of the year there, said cooperation and optimism are the cornerstones of any successful curriculum.

She said bickering and grudges between staff often distract administrators from their most pressing challenge: Making the best of limited funds.

"We cannot make progress if we digress in conflict," Hills said. "We cannot afford to fight among ourselves."

She urged educators to let go of their gripes and stay positive despite slim budgets. She implored them to take to heart her two governing precepts: Life is unfair and the glass is always half full, not empty.

Schools in Brazosport, Texas, have maintained the latter world-view over the past five years and managed to close gaps in their students' standardized test scores, according to Clara Sale-Davis, principal of a Brazosport middle school.

During her presentation titled "Improving Teaching and Learning: The Brazosport Way," Sale-Davis outlined the strategy administrators used to level students' scores despite differences in their wealth and race.

Called a "common sense" approach to instruction, the plan entails collecting data on student-ability levels; categorizing students by aptitude and skill; setting a timeline to bring struggling students up to speed; and administering regular assessment tests to ensure they stay there.

"We're not teaching to the test -- we're teaching to the state standards, which, pray God, are aligned with the national standards," she said.

Some local officials said they found the event helpful and informative.

Dr. Patricia Grandinetti, principal of Campbell Court Elementary School, said that many of the speeches re-affirmed her conviction that Henry County schools are on the right track to raising student achievement.

She noted that the schools already employ many of the tactics Sale-Davis detailed in her presentation.

"(It was) very informative, nice that we're all on the same page," Grandinetti said.

"I think it's good for the staffs, the teachers from various schools to interact," added DeWitt House, Henry County assistant superintendent for instruction. "Overall, I think it was a positive experience."

He said Henry County principals may contact some of the consultants for advice if they get instruction-improvement grants from The Harvest Foundation.

The foundation awards grants to non-profit groups and organizations whose projects benefit residents of Henry County. According to a foundation pamphlet, the foundation is fielding grant proposals from local schools, which are eligible to receive up to $50,000 a year for five years.

The pamphlet states that the grant application deadline is April 15.


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