No Child Left Behind status history for Cleveland High School, Polk County High School and Sequatchie Middle School shows their battles to meet Adequate Yearly Progress benchmarks. Schools that miss AYP benchmarks for two years in a row are placed on the state list of "high-priority" schools, which places them under a school improvement plan. There are 282 high-priority schools out of Tennessee's 1,664 schools.
• Cleveland High School: 2006, target; 2007, good standing; 2008, target; 2009, high priority; 2010, high priority improving; 2011, target (did not meet AYP for math in 2011).
• Polk County High School: 2006, target; 2007, good standing; 2008, target; 2009, high priority; 2010, high priority improving; 2011, target (did not meet AYP in 2011 for math).
• Sequatchie Middle School: 2006, target; 2007, good standing; 2008, target school; 2009, high priority; 2010, high priority improving; 2011, good standing.
Source: Tennessee Report Card, Tennessee Department of Education
Folks at Sequatchie County Middle School are celebrating their escape from the state's "high-priority" schools list for the first time in five years.
"We're just tickled to death," said Principal Sandy Nash. "Teachers got steak dinners and kids got rewards and stuff because we've been on this list for so long."
Sequatchie Middle is just one of three area schools and 23 in the state to get off the list this year. Polk County High School and Cleveland High School are now upgraded to "target" and are off the list, too, records show.
To be removed from the list, schools must meet Adequate Yearly Progress benchmarks under the federal No Child Left Behind Act. A school must hit those benchmarks for two straight years in whichever category - math, reading/language arts, graduation rates for high schools, attendance rates for middle and elementary - in which it failed to hit AYP guidelines in the past.
AYP is the minimum level of improvement that students must achieve each year.
Schools that don't meet AYP for two years running on the same benchmark are designated "high-priority," according to Tennessee Department of Education definitions, and a "target school" is one that fails to meet at least one benchmark for one year.
Sequatchie Middle now is in "good standing," having met all AYP benchmarks, and Nash said that, while the accomplishment is cause for celebration, work continues to stay off the list.
The state report card containing school-level data could be released in the next few days, but school officials have embargoed data in hand that shows how they did.
Sequatchie County Director of Schools Johnny Cordell said retired former Principal Donald Johnson and Nash kept up steady improvements in staffing and hard work in math to get the school off the list.
"It's been a long, hard slog," Cordell said. "They've been on it five years."
Most improvements stem from a continuing effort to assess teachers' strengths and put them where they can do the most good, he said.
At Cleveland and Polk County high schools, the graduation rate was the stumbling block that students cleared to get the school off the high-priority list, officials said.
At Cleveland High, the school pushed credit recovery programs - a second chance for students who flunk a class to recover the credits they lost - and by "meeting with parents and students in a one-on-one basis," Cleveland City Schools spokesman Doug Moore said.
He noted graduation rates in 2011 results are actually tied to the class of 2010's graduation percentage.
Cleveland High officials addressed the graduation rate by creating an after-school program for students during a period called fifth block that provides a chance for academic improvement, he said.
"Credit recovery is one of the opportunities for juniors and seniors who are in danger of not being able to achieve the credits they need for graduation," he said.
"Right now, schools are in the middle of doing school improvement plans and we're working on plans to address that," Moore said.
Polk County High School Principal Jason Bell said graduation rates are "very tricky."
"Almost every kid has their own story in terms of the graduation rate," Bell said.
He credits a team effort involving students, teachers, administrators and parents for the high school's improvement and getting off the high-priority list.
But Polk High and Cleveland High remain "target" schools because they failed to meet AYP in 2011 math scores, officials said.
School officials will keep a focus on the graduation rate while they work on plans to make sure students meet AYP in math this spring, Bell and Moore said.
"We're trying to do a better job at looking at data and we're making sure everyone's aware of how important those tests are - students, teachers, parents, custodians, maintenance men - we need everybody," Bell said.