Gainesville Elementary is a 90-90-90 school, writes Samuel Freedman in the New York Times. Ninety percent of the students are non-white, 90 percent are poor and 90 percent meet Georgia’s state standards. All students who are behind “stay for an extra three hours of class each weekday and seven hours on Saturday.” Principal Shawn Arevalo McCollough, “a social reconstructionist by nature,” uses what are considered “conservative” education ideas.
He does not pull out children for separate bilingual classes, offering only “survival skills English” two hours a day for a maximum of eight weeks. He has reached out to Gainesville’s financial establishment, gaining a $20,000 grant for the Saturday school from Mar-Jac, one of the major poultry companies. He culled an additional $20,000 for the lengthened weekday classes by deferring purchases of textbooks and other materials.
Like the Gainesville school district as a whole, Mr. McCollough uses standardized tests to guide curriculum and hold teachers (and himself) publicly accountable. Every nine weeks, pupils in all five Gainesville elementary schools take tests that measure their knowledge of the various components of Georgia’s statewide curriculum. By analyzing the results, principals and teachers select the next round of lessons to address the weak points. Phonics and math drills figure prominently in the lessons. All the test results are posted in school hallways and on the district Web site – not just by school or by grade level but by the individual teacher’s name.
Tests show you where you’re at, says the principal. Diagnosing the problem is a step toward finding the solution.
Most of his students are the children of Mexican immigrants who came to Gainesville to work in chicken-processing plants. Their parents are poorly educated and speak little or no English. When these kids fail, it’s easy to come up with excuses. But they can learn.