Raleigh school works for a 'renaissance' of learning
Posted September 12, 2011
Raleigh, N.C. — Four Wake County elementary schools with low test scores and a high percentage of children on free and reduced lunch hope to turn things around this school year, with the help of federal grant money.
Barwell Road Elementary in Raleigh started the school year with more than 100 new teachers, a new principal and new administrative staff.
Fifth-grader Shanika Wood didn't find the change intimidating.
"When we come in in the morning, it's a bright, cheery, happy environment from us," Shanika said.
Barwell was among the four lowest-performing elementary schools in Wake County last year, along with Brentwood Magnet, Creech Road and Wilburn. This year, they're called "Renaissance Schools," because district staff developed a plan to turn them around, using money from the federal Race to the Top grant.
All teachers and administrators had to re-apply for jobs at the school; otherwise, they were reassigned or found jobs elsewhere. New teachers got a one-time signing bonus and can get bonuses for boosting student achievement.
Only seven teachers returned to Barwell, and Sandy Barefoot came from York Elementary School to be the new principal.
At a school with 75 percent of children on free or reduced lunch, Barefoot said, the goal is to get children to believe in themselves, no matter their challenges at home or in life. That also means getting parents involved in their children's education, she said.
"We're talking to children about being the person they want to be on a daily basis," Barefoot said.
Signs and banners in the hallways spell out expectations for the Barwell Bears. Raleigh school aims for 'renaissance'
"We want them to be the person they want to be, first and foremost. Then excel. Then act responsibly. Respect everyone, and be safe," Barefoot said.
Rose Curran, whose son is in second grade at Barwell, said she's already seen more parental involvement this year. "That's really good to see more parents take an active part in their child's education," she said.
Barwell has also become technology central: a smart board in every classroom, an iPod touch for every student, an individualized website tracking each student's grades, test scores, work samples and goals.
"It actually shows what you need to work on, and it shows what you're doing great on," Shanika said.
Students can practice music in a new studio with iPad instruments or give the daily news on the set of "Bear TV."
Qiana Harvey said the infusion of technology makes the classrooms more interactive and hands-on, and that motives students like her son, who's in fourth grade.
"The overall environment has made him want to do more, and his self-esteem level is increasing," said Harvey, who is president of the Barwell Parent-Teacher Association.
Additionally, more instructional and enrichment time has been built into the school day.
Armed with more time, technology and a handpicked staff, Barwell teachers and students hope to see improved learning and test scores this year.
"I have no doubt we're going to do that by empowering children, by helping them be responsible for their learning," Barefoot said.
"You can do a lot of things when you put your mind to it," Shanika said.