Thrasher Elementary is one of six Hamilton County schools recently recognized by state officials as "rewards schools" for improvement on state exams and one of only two in the county recognized for overall achievement in conjunction with that.
The classification is part of Tennessee's new accountability system replacing No Child Left Behind this year. The state bestowed the "rewards school" title on 169 of its 1,736 public schools, including Thrasher and magnet middle-high school Center for Creative Arts. The new title designates schools in the top 5 percent in overall annual improvement on state exams, with Thrasher and CCA also being part of the smaller subgroup that is also in the top 5 five percent of high-achieving schools in the state.
"Their goal is that we'll be a model for other schools," said Thrasher principal Aimee Randolph of the state's intention in designating rewards schools. "[Officials] are looking at raising the expectations for the nation's schools, and schools like Thrasher should be leading the way."
She credits factors such as having students engaged in learning, teacher collaboration and innovation and support from parents and the community for the school's success.
"We are very fortunate because for the most part, kids come to school ready to learn because they come from families who value education," said Randolph of Thrasher, which has a history of high achievement.
She said the new districtwide frameworks established for math and literacy have been helpful in guiding instruction, creating a strong vertical flow of teaching and learning.
"We don't have independent agency in our building," said Randolph. "We build from a very strong foundation in kindergarten up to fifth grade."
When teachers conduct quarterly assessments in their classrooms, the scores are compared side-by-side, and teachers with higher student achievement levels collaborate with the other teachers and share what has worked well for them, she said.
"We have very high expectations for teacher effectiveness and student learning," said Randolph. "We're very fortunate to have the level of teachers that we do."
She said Thrasher focuses on trying to connect learning with real life.
"We center work around active engagement, encouraging students to be discoverers," said Randolph, adding that she feels innovation is key to a school's success.
The Mac lab added two years ago and a new science, technology, engineering and math lab this fall engage students through technology. The school also incorporates the outdoors into learning, with a greenhouse recently completed on campus housing tomato plants and third-graders set to begin a raised bed to grow fall vegetables.
Through TVA's Partnerships in Education program, Chattanooga State students will be putting solar panels on campus this year. The school also has an outdoor classroom, lake, environmental discovery garden and nature trail in the works.