Clay County High School again achieves “Reward School” status

Published in print August 5, 2015

School learns it’s ranked among state’s top 5% the 2nd year in a row amid shut-down controversy

By THOMAS P. WEAVER
HORIZON Editor
NASHVILLE-After enduring summer-long budget drama and preparing for a possible mid-session shut down, Clay County High School (CCHS) principal Melissa White finally got some good news Monday after students returned to school for an abbreviated registration day.
“You’ve made my day,” she said when told CCHS had been named one of the state’s Reward Schools for the second year in a row. “That is the best news I’ve heard in a long time. We are extremely happy and and our data was even better this time because of the dedication of our staff and the buy-in of our students.
“They understand that education is the most important investment a community can make and to receive recognition like this really validates all of the hard work.”
The news of governor Bill Haslam and education commissioner Candice McQueen’s recent announcement here of CCHS being ranked among the state’s top five percent for progress comes on the heels of the school board voting to shut down the system in early October if the schools receive no additional funding to counteract the cost of federal spending mandates associated with the Affordable Care Act—requests for which have been repeatedly rejected by the Clay County Commission.
Reward schools are announced annually as a part of Tennessee’s accountability system, and after being identified as a focus school three years ago, White developed a tracking system for individual student progress—which paid off in the form of last year’s Reward School status.
The nuts and bolts of the process includes White’s standard of the 80 percent proficiency. If a student doesn’t meet that standard, then they are identified for intervention and are required to attend extra help where they receive one-on-one instruction.
White also explained students conference twice yearly with a teacher where they learn of their state-predicted scores and create an action plan to work towards exceeding those predictions.
“We use the predicted scores as motivation and the students want to beat them,” the principal said last year. “It’s a change in culture here… kids talk about their data and understand it’s importance.
“They want to do better.”
The culture change continued during the 2014 school year leading to this year’s designation.
“Our growth during the last school year was incredible,” White said after learning from the HORIZON the school had again been recognized. “We reached the highest level of growth in every category.
“Our number one goal—which is not posted on any sign, nor is it in any handbook—is to grow every single student academically,” she continued. “It’s just a testament to all of the hard work—it means we are growing students faster than 95% of the schools in the state.
“It’s a process and a team effort, not just from our staff, but from the elementary level too. System-wide we continue to improve. That’s why we’re here. This is what we’re supposed to do.”
See a future HORIZON form more on CCHS’ Reward School designation and news about the ongoing schools funding dilemma.