They were among the lowest-ranked in Georgia. How these four Columbus schools improved

Four schools in Muscogee County have improved their academic performance enough to no longer be required to receive additional support from the Georgia Department of Education.

Dimon, Fox, Lonnie Jackson and Martin Luther King Jr. elementary schools are among the state’s 86 schools on what the GaDOE calls the Exit List.

The federal Every Student Succeeds Act of 2015, mandates states to give additional support to their lowest-performing 5% of schools receiving Title I funding. As part of the federal Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965, Title I provides extra money to schools with at least 40% of their students from families with household income below the poverty level, which in 2024 is $31,200 for a four-member household.

The GaDOE identifies such schools in three categories: Comprehensive Support & Improvement (CSI), Targeted Support & Improvement (TSI) and Additional Targeted Support & Improvement (ATSI).

This year (2023-24), Muscogee County has six of the state’s 107 CSI schools and two of the state’s 75 ATSI schools. Muscogee doesn’t have any of the state’s three TSI schools.

Muscogee’s CSI schools are Baker and Eddy middle schools and Brewer, Dorothy Height, Forrest Road and Georgetown elementary schools. Muscogee’s ATSI schools are Davis (improved from CSI last year) and Key elementary schools.

Last year (2022-23), Muscogee had six CSI schools, three TSI schools and five schools on the Exit List.

“The notable improvement by these schools is a testament to the hard work of the students, teachers, staff and parents of these school communities, as well as the community partners that provide needed support, encouragement and resources,” Muscogee County School District superintendent David Lewis said in a news release. “We are proud of their success and will continue to apply and adapt successful strategies, including the collective support and encouragement of our board of education, district staff and community to improve our remaining challenged schools.”

The other Georgia school districts in the Columbus area (Harris County and Chattahoochee County) don’t have any schools on these lists.

GaDOE’s redefined support categories

The U.S. Department of Education approved the GaDOE’s request in 2023 to redefine its support categories.

CSI schools are among the lowest-performing 5% of Title I schools or any high school with a graduation rate below 68% or any school identified as an ATSI school because of the same student demographic for six years.

TSI schools are any school with one or more consistently under performing subgroup. They are identified annually.

ATSI schools are any school meeting the TSI criteria and having a struggling student demographic that, on its own, would qualify as a CSI school. They are identified every three years.

CSI schools are assigned specialists who provide on-site coaching and support, working with school leadership teams to analyze their practices, develop a plan for school improvement and implement that plan.

GaDOE’s intervention and support options

GaDOE’s school improvement team works with each CSI school to put interventions in place, such as updating instructional practices, providing teacher training and leadership support, and putting community services in place to meet nonacademic needs that affect students’ ability to learn. These services can include:

  • Access to donated food and clothes

  • Mental health counseling

  • Tutoring and academic support

  • Workshops on college applications, resumes and interview skills

  • Assistance with job opportunities.

TSI schools receive support at the district level. GaDOE staff members collaborate with the district to plan the support for these schools. They also meet with district officials to monitor the plan’s implementation and provide professional learning and resources for these schools as needed.

How MCSD Exit List schools improved

The Ledger-Enquirer asked the principals of the four MCSD schools on this year’s Exit List for their reaction to this news, what was the most significant change their school made to achieve this improvement and what else they want to say about their school’s progress. Here are their answers via email:

Dimon Magnet Academy

Principal Emily Wilson

Reaction: “The Dimon community is extremely excited to no longer have the state CSI designation, and is encouraged by our student growth and performance. Dimon is on a journey of continuous improvement; this achievement is evidence that we are doing the right work. While we will not feel successful until all students meet and exceed state standards and expectations, the growth in our students is evident in classroom performance, student communication, and student outcomes. Dimon has high expectations for students and staff, and we strive to be a leader of excellence in our community.”

Most significant change: “I believe that targeting the barriers affecting our special education population was a first step in the improvement process. We have been utilizing progress monitoring data to determine areas where students need additional support and provide explicit instruction for those deficits. Increasing student awareness of their individual learning needs and involving them in the process of setting goals and monitoring their growth helped students to take ownership of their personal success.

“In addition to attention to individual student needs, we have established a school-wide focus on improving literacy using the science of reading approach. We know that the ability to read is the pathway to future school and career success. Therefore, we prioritize instructional time, training, and resources to better meet our students’ needs in this area.”

What else: “Our school-wide theme this year is Together We Grow, and our focus has been on growing our partnerships with families and the community. Our school continues to make positive progress in educating the whole child, utilizing a project-based learning approach through our STEM program. We were very excited last October to successfully accomplish our Georgia STEM Re-certification. As the only state-certified STEM school in Muscogee County, our students engage in learning through a hands-on approach that helps them make real-world connections and learn the importance of giving back to the community.

“The components of our STEM program prepare students to be problem solvers, strategic thinkers, and effective communicators, which positively impacts their performance on state-standardized measures. More importantly, however, this cultivates soft skills that will set them up for success in college, career, and beyond.”

Fox Elementary School

Principal Alison Waldrop

Reaction: “Fox Elementary School’s faculty and staff are excited to see our efforts rewarded. Our teachers and support staff have worked hard to improve student achievement.”

Most significant change: “Our administrative staff and leadership team created a master schedule to protect instructional time and focus on student growth. Intervention time is specified on our master schedule with a concentration on individual needs. Our students’ data is recorded and tracked, and plans are made to address interferences. Basically, WE have been extremely intentional about instruction and learning.”

What else: Fox Elementary School is extremely proud of our new climate and culture. WE have worked hard to improve our attendance, school climate and reduce our discipline referrals. We have seen a drastic improvement in all three areas. This is due to positive incentives, clear expectations and a progressive discipline plan.”

Lonnie Jackson Academy

Principal Candace Lockhart

Reaction: “Our school was excited to hear the news. Our students, faculty, and staff have been working very hard. We celebrated on Tuesday and went right back to work on Wednesday!”

Most significant change: “We set realistic goals, and our faculty and staff encouraged our students along the way.”

What else: “Our school has been supported by our parents, our region chief, and the school district on anything we needed to help achieve our goals.”

Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary School

Principal Karprice Bentley-Brown didn’t separate her answers to each question but wrote the following:

“We are proud of the progress we have made at our school, with our teachers using data-driven methods to personalize student learning and align lessons to rigorous standards. Our focus is on meeting the needs of our students and families, creating a school culture where everyone feels known, valued, and inspired.

“Our faculty and staff are passionate about seeing students meet milestones and are driven by the motivation of growth and progress. We celebrate and recognize that growth leads to achievement.”