UNION — The elementary schools of Union County are proof that poverty does not prevent students from excelling academically if they have excellent teachers committed to giving them the best possible education, according to the State Superintendent of Education.
Dr. Mick Zais visited Monarch and Foster Park elementary schools Tuesday morning and Sims Middle School that afternoon. During his visits, Zais met with the schools’ principals and members of their staffs to discuss what their schools were doing to educate their students and what they were doing to improve that process.
Also attending the meetings were Dr. Kristi Woodall, Union County School District superintendent, and John Rampey, a member of the State Board of Education. The meeting at Foster Park also included Barbara Palmer, Foster Park Elementary principal, and B.J. McMorris and Kim Bailey, members of the Union County Board of School Trustees.
Zais handed out charts drawn up by the State Department of Education rating the academic performance of schools and school districts in 2011-2012 based on poverty levels. The poverty level among Union County’s students was 80.4 percent in the 2011-2012 school year.
Each school and each district on the charts was graded for their performance with grades of A, B, C, D, and F.
In comparison with other districts with similar poverty levels, Union County scored a B for academic performance.
Within the county, Buffalo, Foster Park, and Monarch elementary schools and Lockhart School scored As for their academic performance.
Zais said he was impressed with the achievements of Union County’s elementary schools which he said confirms his belief that even students from impoverished backgrounds can do well academically.
“I visited two schools today, Monarch Elementary and Foster Park Elementary, both of them are very highly rated compared to similar schools across the state,” Zais said Tuesday afternoon. “They both got As and are excelling, especially in comparison with other schools with similar levels of poverty.
“These schools prove what I’ve said for three years now, while poverty may be a factor it is not an excuse,” he said. “Low-income kids can learn.”
During the meeting at Foster Park, Zais, Woodall, Palmer and the rest agreed that the key to academic success throughout school begins at the elementary level with an emphasis on children learning to read, which Zais described as the most important part of their education. He also urged principals to focus on the recruitment and retention of talented teachers who are committed to educating their students.
“The number one job of a principal is to recruit, motivate and retain excellent teachers,” Zais said.
Palmer said her school’s staff is committed to educating the students and creating an atmosphere that encourages them to learn. She said that the school does not let a child’s income level determine their level of academic achievement.
“We have a wonderful staff and the children are amazing,” Palmer said. “We have a high poverty level but we don’t use that as an excuse. We believe that children can learn despite their economic status. We have a family atmosphere here in which the teachers and staff nurture the students.”
Woodall said she’d spoken with Zais at length about the district’s effort to improve student performance at the middle and high school levels. Jonesville Elementary/ Middle School scored B while Sims Middle School scored a C and Union County High School an F.
“I have discussed with him some of our systemic approaches for raising achievement at the middle and high schools,” Woodall said. “It centers around purposeful lesson planning, assessments that measure what is important, and including the community in the education of children.
“It was refreshing to discuss the challenges we face and be offered some ideas for us to consider,” she said. “The best part of the day has been his validation that what we are doing is working.”
Editor Charles Warner can be reached at 864-427-1234, ext. 14, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.