Wake's Renaissance schools see academic gains

Based on preliminary test results, Wake County Schools Superintendent Tony Tata says the school district’s four Renaissance Schools saw academic gains this past school year.

khui@newsobserver.comJuly 9, 2012 

— Four Wake County elementary schools that have gotten an infusion of federal dollars for extra teacher pay, new technology and small class sizes were lauded Monday for test score gains this past school year.

Wake Schools Superintendent Tony Tata marked the start of a new school year Monday for year-round schools by going to Barwell Road Elementary School in Southeast Raleigh to thank the teachers for their work in raising test scores. Tata said that Barwell and the other three “Renaissance schools,” based on preliminary state test results, all saw gains in their passing rates and in students meeting growth expectations.

“I’m terribly proud of the team here because it’s one of the four Renaissance schools,” Tata said. “And the gains at those schools are outstanding.”

Wake is using part of its $10.2 million federal Race to the Top education grant to create and fund the Renaissance program to target the district’s lowest performing elementary schools.

For this past school year, Wake targeted Barwell, Brentwood Elementary School in North Raleigh, Creech Road Elementary School in Garner and Wilburn Elementary School in North Raleigh. All four schools also have high percentages of students receiving federally subsidized lunches.

Walnut Creek Elementary School in Southeast Raleigh was added to the program for the 2012-13 school year.

Many of the teachers and three of the principals were replaced at the Renaissance Schools. Signing bonuses of up to $7,000 were offered to the new hires.

“It’s a principal’s dream to be able to put together your own staff,” said Sandy Barefoot, Barwell’s principal. “I brought in some heavy hitters.”

The Renaissance schools are the only Wake schools using performance pay for teachers. Based on how well students do, teachers can get up to $3,400 a year in merit pay bonuses.

New technology such as high-tech white boards for every classroom and an iPod Touch for every student were provided.

“They love the iPods,” said Tonya Waldon, whose son, Williams, is a fifth-grader at Barwell. “They’ve integrated the technology into their learning,”

The test results for the 2011-12 school year won’t become official until Aug. 2 when they’re presented to the State Board of Education. But based on the preliminary results, Tata said all the Renaissance schools saw gains with Barwell seeing the highest gain in proficiency in the district.

Tata said Barwell saw a 10-point increase in the proficiency rate on state exams with the majority of students also seeing at least a year’s worth of academic growth.

“I just wanted to come out and thank you for all your hard work and congratulate you for all your success,” Tata said during a brief pep talk with Barwell’s teachers.

Even with Barwell’s academic gain and infusion of additional resources, the school has 100 kindergarten openings this year under the new choice-based student assignment plan.

Under the choice plan being used for this new school year, addresses are no longer tied to a specific school. Instead, families ranked where they’d want to go from a list of school options.

Last month, the school board directed staff to develop an assignment plan for the 2013-14 school year that goes back to tying each address to a specific school.

Barefoot said the smaller enrollment means she’s lost seven teaching positions. She said those teachers either moved to different schools or decided to quit for various reasons.

“We see growth every day,” Tata said. “I can guarantee you that as the word gets out about Barwell Road Elementary that this place will be in demand.”

Hui: 919-829-4534

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