By Johnny Jackson
Henry County Schools has been named one of Georgia's 2009 Title I Distinguished Districts.
State Schools Superintendent Kathy Cox made the announcement Wednesday that Henry was among four school districts in the state receiving the recognition. "These districts and schools are a prime example of the impact high expectations, hard work and collaboration can have on student achievement," Cox said. "I'm thrilled to recognize the educators, students and parents in these schools and school districts."
Henry received the recognition in the category of large school districts, outperforming 35 other school systems in the state with more than 10,000 students. Previous award winners include Hall County Schools in 2008, and Atlanta Public Schools in 2007.
"This is one indication of the high quality of instruction students receive each day within schools in Henry County," said Henry Superintendent Michael Surma. "We have high expectations for all our students, and they are proving successful."
The Title I Distinguished District Award is given to school systems that have done the best jobs of closing the achievement gap between economically disadvantaged students and students who are not economically disadvantaged, according to Matt Cardoza, spokesman with the Georgia Department of Education.
Cardoza said performances on reading, language arts and mathematics portions of the Criterion-Referenced Competency Test, as well as on the Georgia High School Graduation Test, are used to determine achievement.
He added that, as a part of the recognition, Henry will receive $50,000 in additional federal funding to be used on instructional needs, at the school system's discretion.
Henry school officials said the funds will be spent on the system's Title I Program, but could not specify how it will be used to help improve achievement.
"The Title I Distinguished District Award is an outstanding achievement for our Title I schools," said Greg Benton, Henry's assistant superintendent of learning and teaching. "We are honored and pleased to receive this distinction from the Georgia Department of Education, and we know that it is directly related to the hard work and dedication of our Title I principals, teachers, coaches, and support staff."
School-level Administrator Christi Peterman said the whole school community plays an important role in student achievement, but no role is more important than that of teachers in the classroom. "It's all thanks to the teachers," Peterman said. "They're on the front lines. We have Title I Distinguished Teachers, is what we actually have. This is their award."
Peterman is the principal at Locust Grove Elementary School, one of Henry's seven 2009 Title I Distinguished Schools, along with Fairview, Hampton, McDonough, Smith-Barnes, Stockbridge, and Wesley Lakes elementary schools.
Title I schools -- recipients of federal funds to help support their economically disadvantaged student populations -- must achieve "adequate yearly progress" on the state's academic assessments, for at least three consecutive years, in order to become Title I Distinguished Schools.
As Title I Distinguished Schools, the schools will receive additional federal funding-- between $712 and $1,068 -- for their school-improvement plans for 2010.
"We take that money, and we use it for our students with technology and resources to give our students what they need to provide them with better opportunities," Peterman said. "We put a big portion of our money into parent involvement ... anything we can do to get the parents involved in our school community."
Peterman said parents represent a major link in the educational process and play a vital role in the success of students. "We need their support," she said. "Our goal at Locust Grove is for every one of our kids to go to college. We just want to plant that seed in every child's mind that you can go to college."
Added Henry County Board of Education Chairman Ray Hudalla: "I appreciate all the efforts of so many on behalf of student achievement. We are fortunate to have quality faculty and staff, whose focus is ensuring the success of each student."
On the net:
Georgia Department of Education: www.gadoe.org
Henry County Schools: www.henry.k12.ga.us