Local News

March 9, 2014

‘All for one and one for all’

Collaboration of principals, teachers bags Whitfield schools $2.3M grant

When Britt Adams went to Tunnel Hill Elementary on Monday to read the children’s classic “Stand Tall Molly Lou Melon” to students, he was hit with a “flood of memories.”

“I had to take a breath,” the principal of Northwest Whitfield High School said, smiling. “I started thinking about reading that book to my kids when they were little babies.”

Families reading together, in a fast-paced world saturated with digital devices, isn’t as commonplace as it used to be, so teachers have to pick up the slack, said Merry Boggs, curriculum director for Whitfield County Schools.

Teachers are going to get some help in the form of a $2.3 million literacy grant awarded to the county school district by the federal Department of Education recently.

The grant, called Striving Readers, will be paid out over five years and split between New Hope Elementary, Pleasant Grove Elementary, Tunnel Hill Elementary, Westside Elementary, New Hope Middle, Westside Middle and Northwest Whitfield High, schools all within the same feeder system located on the north side of the county.

Unlike most federal grants, much of the money will go towards training teachers to push students who are already doing well in classes, Boggs said.

“We will train teachers on how you work with academically able kids, how you work with gifted kids,” she said. “We work so hard on how to help those kids that aren’t succeeding. Sometimes we don’t focus on how to make someone who is a good reader even better. It’s going to help the struggling readers, too, but it will raise expectations across the district.”

Training will focus on “educational strategies,” Boggs said, adding that final details of what the training will consist of will be decided this week as part of an “action plan.”

Tracy Mardis, principal of Westside Elementary, said he’s looking forward to the training, touting that 98 percent of his students are meeting or surpassing reading benchmarks like the CRCT (Criterion-Referenced Competency Tests).

“But this will push them further,” he said of the grant. “The majority of the funds will go to professional development, which is what the grant is intended for, but it will also let us buy some supplies like books, too.”

Adams said the grant is needed after years of economic recession that tightened government funding of schools across the nation.

Boggs said Whitfield was selected from among roughly 35 districts in the state that applied for the grant, something that wouldn’t have happened without collaboration between principals and teachers.

“We were really all for one and one for all,” Adams added.

“Our budget has been cut so much in the last four or five years that it seemed like a good opportunity to find some other source of funding,” he said. “It was a lot of work, but there’s always a lot going on. I mean, we could use that as an excuse and sit on our hands or we could just bite the bullet and see what we could do. And we did this.”

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