By MARINA WATERS
Grandview Elementary School and Jonesborough Elementary School are both on the south side of Washington County. But this year, they have a little more in common; both schools have been named a reward school by the Tennessee Department of Education.
In honor of the reward status, Grandview held a school-wide event on Monday, Nov. 19, to celebrate and to share a little cake with the faculty and staff and popsicles with students.
“We are super excited. It’s the most prestigious honor you can get in the state of Tennessee as far as a school goes,” Grandview Principal Rachel Adams said, donning a celebratory shirt the school had printed after receiving the news. “We’re very excited for our teachers and our students. We just want all of them to be able to be proud of this accomplishment and understand how big of a deal it is.”
To be named a reward school is the highest distinction a school can earn in the state and the status is awarded to schools that are improving overall student growth and achievement.
This year, 318 schools received the reward school status, meaning about 20 percent of schools received the honor.
To solidify what it all means to K-8 students gathered around in the gym at Grandview, Washington County Mayor Joe Grandy and Washington County Director of Schools Bill Flanary served as special guests at the school celebration. Flanary made it a point to let the students know how prestigious the reward status is for a school.
“This is a very big deal,” Flanary said to the students. “You are a very big deal. I want to thank you for making us proud. I want to thank you for all your hard work. And I want to thank you for making Grandview Elementary School one of the very best schools in the entire state of Tennessee.”
For Adams, the award came as no surprise. She said she has seen firsthand the work teachers have put into student growth and achievement and helping students reach their academic goals.
“One of the reasons I attribute to our school being named a reward school is the fantastic, focused job our teachers did of goal setting with our students and monitoring their progress towards their goals,” Adams said. “So with that comes if you meet your goal, you’ve got to celebrate. So we want to celebrate that.”
Meanwhile, Jonesborough Elementary School Principal Matt Combs said his school’s teachers made the difference as well. He said that, specifically, small groups, focusing on student data and reducing the need for remedial education were keys to their success.
“The teachers have put a lot more focus on their craft and improving themselves professionally,” Combs said. “It’s paid off in the end. When our third graders go to fourth grade, and they walk in, they’re better prepared. They’re able to walk in and be on that level immediately. There’s less need for remediation and that’s been visible. It’s paid off for the students, but it’s really been a culture change in focusing on our work and our craft in education.”
And with that culture change comes a higher level of expectation; Combs said the award has already pushed them to gear up for next year’s planning for future students.
“The reward status is nice and it was an honor to receive that, but you don’t want to dwell on the past,” Combs said. “There’s no time to sit and dwell on the past. We’ve got to look at the kids we’ve got in the classroom today and see what they need and how can we best serve them. We’ll start thinking about next year’s students in April or May and try to see what we can tweak over the summer to be better prepared for them next year.”
Adams said Grandview is hungry to keep working towards its goals — and on that list is being a two-time reward status recipient.
She also said that while receiving the high distinction has been unprecedented for Grandview, as it is for Jonesborough Elementary, the effort she sees from the school’s teachers is an every day thing and only adds to her elation with the award.
“As a principal, it’s very exciting, but this didn’t surprise me,” Adams said, “because I saw last year, day in and day out how hard our teachers worked, how focused they were, how much confidence they had in our students. And I also saw the same thing in our students.
“While it’s exciting, I see it every day. And it just makes me super proud to be the principal here.”