Local News

Low-income elementary school is high performing

Posted September 3, 2009 6:36 a.m. EDT
Updated September 3, 2009 4:43 p.m. EDT

— A Raleigh elementary school is defying the trend that schools with low-income students have lower test scores.

At Lead Mine Elementary, 44 percent of nearly 500 students get free or reduced lunches. Yet 85 percent of third-, fourth- and fifth-graders passed end-of-grade tests.

Principal Gary Baird said the formula behind student success includes hiring good teachers and getting them to connect with students.

"You can have all the programs in the world, but unless you have people to implement them, it's not going to work out," Baird said.

Lead Mine's EOG scores are 8 percentage points higher than the district average and outperforms most schools with a similar or smaller percentage of students getting free or reduced lunches.

"Just because a child's (on) free and reduced lunch doesn't mean they're not capable," Baird said.

The success also comes from methods teachers use. In teams, they review test data gathered throughout the year to measure students' progress.

"We look at how they score on that, and then we look at what part they struggle with," described fourth-grade teacher Ashlee Wackerly. "Then we'll talk about strategies that we can use to take back to our classrooms."

Lead Mine blocks out 45 minutes a day for student enrichment or intervention. Students who already understand the lessons do activities that build on that knowledge. Students who need extra help get it from resource teachers supported by federal funding.

Other secrets to student achievement are software that individualizes math and science lessons, teaching basics before EOG testing and a staff committed to learning – down to the custodians, Baird said.

"You can look at your kids and say, 'Man, we've got 44 percent free and reduced lunch, how are we ever going to teach them?' Or you say, 'OK, whoever comes through that door, they're going to learn,'" he said.

Lead Mine's EOG results caught the attention of Wake County Public Schools System Superintendent Del Burns. His leadership team visited the school this week to learn about its success.

Wackerly said teachers aren't resting on their laurels.

"We're setting higher goals this year," she said.