Elephant’s Fork faces challenge

Published 9:10 pm Monday, January 16, 2012

Elephant’s Fork Elementary School faces harsh sanctions, including a possible replacement of the staff, if it does not make progress toward educational goals this year. The school has failed to meet goals of the No Child Left Behind Act for four straight years.

Faculty at Elephant’s Fork Elementary School have one more year to turn things around before the school receives a restructuring plan that could call for drastic changes.

Having failed to meet its yearly progress goals under the No Child Left Behind Act for the past four years, Elephant’s Fork Elementary School finds itself critically in need of progress this year.

But officials at the school and in the administration believe changes and new programs put in place since the beginning of the school year will make a difference.

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“I feel we’re moving in the right direction,” Principal Veleka Gatling said during a meeting of the Suffolk School Board on Thursday.

The school has been labeled as needing improvement for the past four years and must make what’s known as Adequate Yearly Progress in all subjects two years in a row to avoid a restructuring.

Officials have turned to a variety of strategies, such as participating in “No-Worksheet” days and having common tests for grade levels, to improve Standards of Learning test scores.

“English is one area that has really been trouble for Elephant’s Fork,” Gatling said. “However, we’ve continued to see Elephant’s Fork has a very strong math program.”

To increase teacher effectiveness, Gatling said, staff members are holding weekly grade-level meetings with an agenda dictated by student grades, along with monthly leadership meetings. The school is also holding monthly meetings for teacher assistants.

“It’s important to involve all stakeholders in the meetings,” Gatling said.

She said the main goal is for Elephant’s Fork to address the disparity in achievement between students of different races and economic classes.

To help students, the school has continued reading rotations, during which students participate in hands-on activities that target areas of reading they are having trouble with, and No-Worksheet Day, which takes place on the last Friday of every month.

On the advice of several teachers who transferred to Elephant’s Fork after Mount Zion Elementary closed last year, she said, teachers are looking to develop common tests for each grade level, so data can be analyzed more effectively.

Gatling said the teachers also are testing students’ knowledge by giving assessments in which the children list everything they know about a certain topic.

As part of its improvement status, the school also is subjected to visits from the school division to do academic reviews.

After the division’s last visit, Gatling said, officials noted Elephant’s Fork has several strengths, such as allowing staff to give feedback on organizational changes and using individual student data to identify strength and needs.

However, she said, the division suggested some additions, like forming more instruction based on student needs and establishing a method to monitor teachers’ instruction.

In addition to all the local and school-based improvements, Elephant’s Fork is also following guidelines from the state. For example, Gatling said, the principal must spend at least 50 percent of her time working with teachers to improve instruction, and teachers must keep a file on communication with parents, outlining the strengths and needs of each student.

If Elephant’s Fork fails to meet AYP again, deputy superintendent Jackie Chavis said, it will get a restructuring plan, and drastic changes could take place, including replacing the staff.