The Newnan Times-Herald


‘Chronically failing’ Ruth Hill in midst of improvement project

  • By Rebecca Leftwich
  • |
  • Jan. 25, 2017 - 12:29 AM

Three consecutive years with a score of less than 60 on the College and Career Ready Performance Index has earned Ruth Hill Elementary School a spot on the newest “Chronically Failing Schools” list.

But Ruth Hill Principal Aaron Corley said the school is already in the midst of a long-term improvement project that its inclusion on the list will not significantly alter.

“What we’re doing is not in response to the CCRPI scores,” said Corley, who is in his fourth year at the school. “We knew our kids were not making the progress we wanted, and that made us focus more on what we were doing in the classroom.”

Dramatic decreases in CCRPI scores were reported among the state’s elementary schools in 2016. Of the Coweta County School System’s 19 elementary schools, nine lagged behind statewide scores. The Georgia Department of Education attributed the statewide drop in elementary scores to unmet bonus point opportunities for economically disadvantaged students, English learners and students with disabilities.

“These results point to the need for continued intensive focus on the foundations in early grades,” State School Superintendent Richard Woods said.

It’s a challenge local schools are meeting head-on, according to Julie Raschen, Coweta’s director of assessment and accountability. Raschen said early skill-building is key, because for many students entering kindergarten or first grade, a Coweta County School System classroom is their first learning experience.

“Our teachers are focused on building basic skills and helping them become successful students,” Raschen said.

For Ruth Hill, identified as Coweta’s most struggling school, that means extra personnel and support. The school system has provided a second instructional coach and additional teachers to lower class sizes. Communities in Schools was established there last year.

The school offers tutoring before and after school each day as well as on Saturdays, additional paraprofessionals, academic parent-teacher teams, built-in flexible instructional time not only for struggling students but for advanced and REACH students, and innovative hands-on activities in both the school’s media center and its computer/STEM lab.

Corley said the pressure of underperforming students has united the staff and faculty of Ruth Hill.

“None of us wants this label to be associated with this school,” he said. “The kids work too hard and make too much progress. So we rallied around the school to see what we can do as a group. We’re constantly adjusting things if they’re not working.”

Sherry Love, whose son Joey has been at Ruth Hill since kindergarten, said the school doesn’t feel like it’s failing.

“Absolutely not,” she said. “Dr. Corley has turned this school around. It’s a family school. The teachers are extremely caring, and they want the children to excel, and they love to communicate with the parents to let them know whether they’re doing good or bad.”

Love credits the school – particularly teacher Dana DeGennaro, who moved from kindergarten to the fifth grade classroom this year – with Joey’s progress. DeGennaro taught Joey in kindergarten and is now his fifth-grade teacher.

“If it wasn’t for her, I don’t think my son would be where he is today,” she said. “He was behind in kindergarten, and she convinced us to hold him back. It was hard to convince us, but once she gave him that extra TLC he needed and got him caught up, he’s flown though. He makes A’s and B’s now.”

The continued, combined effort should produce lasting results for Ruth Hill, according to Superintendent Steve Barker.

”Our school system, school board and Ruth Hill's staff and stakeholders are dedicated to working together to help students be successful," Barker said. "We are all committed to this important task, and will continue to provide additional resources and continue to support the improvement efforts that are ongoing. With the hard work being done by strong teachers, administrators and support staff, we are confident that the needs of all of our students will be met."