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Schools leader predicts success in coming year

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By Angye Morrison

Gadsden County School District Superintendent Reginald James is not psychic – but he’s already making predictions for the next academic year.

James said Monday he is pleased with the progress that’s being made in the elementary schools, and he believes the district is providing students with a “much stronger foundation.

“Elementary school is the key to building student success, because you have to really give them a solid foundation,” he said. “Third grade (Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test) scores were much better than last year, along with fourth and fifth. I think this will translate into four or five ‘A’ schools. We had four (‘A’ schools) last year, the first year we’ve ever had that. We will maintain that and gain a possible fifth one.”

The fifth one – Chattahoochee Elementary School – is a story in itself. CES was a double “F” school just a few years ago, then a couple of years ago, it became an “F” school. It’s been a strong “B” in recent days, and James expects the school to get an “A” this year.

“When you see schools come from ‘F’s’ to ‘A’s,’ then you know you are doing some things right. We just have to keep working and believing in our students, and pressing our teachers to use data to drive instruction,” James said.

But James said the district will not rest on its laurels.

“We’re never satisfied, but we are certainly pleased with our success,” he said.

James said the middle schools are on the move and he is seeing a pattern of improvements within those grade levels.

“There is a strong wave of students moving through that have shown some real progress,” he said. “I’m looking for next year to be a breakout year in middle school. That’s my projection. Looking at the data, I think it will be a breakout year, based on the trends I’ve seen. And I’ll stand on that.

James said the biggest challenge currently is the high schools.

“We have yet to solve all of the challenges there,” he said. “When students get to high school as ineffective readers, that presents a major challenge in terms of being able to perform well. And we are still dealing with those. That seems to be where our challenges lie.”

But overall, James is pleased with the students’ progress in all grades.

“The data tells the story and we’re going to crunch the numbers and look at it. My general feeling is that it’s been a good testing season. We hope we can break a record in terms of ‘A’ schools, and we’ll keep moving toward building better high schools,” the superintendent said.

James said East Gadsden High School’s performance this year may drop a little, but the school will still do well. He added that West Gadsden High School is showing a lot of potential, due largely to the leadership of first-year principal Dr. Sylvia Jackson.

“I think we added a very strong person to our team with Dr. Jackson, and that school is showing potential. We don’t think they will be a failing school this year. We’ll have to wait and see,” he said.

“Our writing scores this year were very good. Putting the writing, the reading and the math scores all together; we are definitely building strong students,” James said. “I think it will pay dividends down the road for the community and the county. We'll see a wave of much stronger students ready to go out and make a positive contribution to the world.”