Students from East Ridge Elementary School also had a reason to celebrate this month. On Nov. 1, the school opened its new “Synergy Station,” which brought updated reading materials, literary technology and new seating to its library. The upgrade was funded by a $50,000 grant from the Leonore Annenberg School Fund for Children, which has given $7 million to 91 public elementary schools that are in financial need over the past decade.
Local Reward Schools:
Performance and Progress
Lookout Mountain Elementary
STEM School Chattanooga
East Ridge Middle School
Since becoming the principal of East Ridge Middle School in 2016, Angela Cass has worked with teachers to create an environment of collaboration and service. Last month, data from the Tennessee Department of Education revealed that their efforts have paid off.
East Ridge Middle was recognized as one of the state's 169 Reward Schools for its student growth over the 2016-2017 school year.
Reward School status is reserved for institutions that rank among the top 5 percent of schools statewide for academic achievement, progress or both. Of the 85 schools recognized for progress, only two — East Ridge Middle and Thrasher Elementary on Signal Mountain — were from the Hamilton County Schools district.
ERMS special education teacher Michael Hankins said a large catalyst for the 720-student school's growth was the leadership of Cass and assistant principals Christy Drake and Tyler Rich, who worked to promote a family dynamic among both faculty and students.
"The stronger we are, the better we're going to be for the kids," Hankins said.
Since being instated, Cass said she has also put a "laser focus" on collaborative planning as a way to bring quality teaching to every classroom. The emphasis has resulted in the formation of professional learning communities. Teachers regularly meet in small groups to bounce ideas off one another and develop teaching methods they hope will improve student performance, Cass explained.
For example, she said two teachers of the same subject may give their students the same exam but use different strategies to present the lesson. When the teachers compare scores, they are then able to see which strategy worked better and adjust accordingly.
"So it's really just about constantly looking back at student performance and seeing what's working and what's not working and how can we tweak it," said Cass. "I tell the teachers all the time: I think that multiple brains are better than one. You might think of a way of teaching that lesson that never occurred to me."
The educators are still sifting through individual growth data, but Cass said the figures have shown significant gains in overall grade-level content, especially language arts, thanks to the implementation of guided reading by district officials.
Moving forward, Cass hopes to build on students' progress by continuing to have district academic coaches do side-by-side coaching with the teachers, with the goal of eventually having teachers become leaders able to do the coaching themselves. She also plans to continue fostering teachers' visits to other schools so they can network with other educators.
Teachers say they plan to double-down on student achievement by reinforcing last year's focus on students' individual learning styles.
"Every student has their own way of learning and their own speed of learning," said Deana Johnson, who teaches eighth-grade history. "I strive to show and prove to every student that they can learn and reach their highest potential."
Though no date has been set, school administrators are planning an assembly to celebrate the Reward School achievement, and plan to host another in January to recognize top student performers.
"It's exciting to see the students get something incredible they deserve," Hankins said. "They need something that they can be proud of."
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