Harrison Elementary claims 'rewards schools' status

Harrison Elementary claims 'rewards schools' status

September 5th, 2012 Kelsie Bowman in Local Regional News

While the teachers of Harrison Elementary School prepare their lesson plans, they are also celebrating the fact that the school was recently deemed a "rewards" school for being among the top 5 percent in the state for overall improvement in test scores.

"Truly having the highly effective teachers, focused students and really supportive parents ... I attribute it to that," former Harrison principal Norma Faerber said.

Fourth-grade teacher Tara Garic instructs her class in the day's math lesson.

Photo by Kelsie Bowman

She served as principal during the four previous school years at Harrison, including the 2011-2012 school year in which the school improved its test scores, thereby gaining it the rewards designation. She transferred to the principal position at McConnell Elementary in Hixson this fall.

Both Faerber and new Harrison principal Stacey Johnson said the school's teachers always put their best efforts into their jobs, often working into the evening, over weekends and throughout the summer to prepare the most effective lessons for their students. TCAP assessments taken by those in the third, fourth and fifth grades at the end of each school year serve as proof of what the students have been taught.

"I have been in ... every type of school you can imagine. I've just never worked with a more dedicated group of teachers," Johnson said. According to her, the interview process for teachers at Harrison is extremely rigorous. "It always starts with who you are hiring," she said.

In place of typical faculty meetings, Harrison's teachers implement something they call "Harrison Higher Learning" in which the teachers participate in after-school professional development as a team, constantly seeking out new and improved ways to teach the students.

"One thing we will continue to do is collaborate," said fifth-grade teacher Angie Emmert. "We are like a family; I think that helps."

She said the school's teachers are constantly bouncing ideas off of each other and brainstorming new effective teaching methods. The educators put a lot of stock in research and data, implementing what they learn as they teach in their classrooms while paying close attention to the results.

Some teachers attribute the students' growth in scores to time they spend in reading and math small groups. The small group method at Harrison is not just used as a type of intervention for students lagging below the standard - all students get small group time, according to fifth-grade teacher Jason Crider.

"We really looked at research and looked at our data," said Faerber. "Everyone just used every possible resource to follow the best practices."

Future plans for the school include using grant money to buy a mobile laptop cart since the school doesn't currently have a computer lab. This will allow the students to participate in an instructional software program called SuccessMaker from Pearson Digital, which will focus on students' individual math and reading skills while providing data to the educators so that they can make more informed decisions on how to form their lesson plans.