PCHS awarded for outstanding middle grades

Published 3:00 am Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Pike County High School has been awarded the Outstanding Making Middle Grades Work Award by the Southern Regional Education Board (SREB). The award was presented at the 31st Annual High Schools That Work Staff Development Conference in Nashville in July.

Shondra Whitaker, PCHS assistant principal, accepted the award on behalf of Willie Wright, PCHS principal, the faculty and students.

“This award is something we are very proud of as it recognizes the perseverance and hard work of our students, faculty, parents and community,” Whitaker said. “Pursuing excellence every day for every student is our vision statement at Pike County High School.”

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Whitaker said PCHS has a rich tradition of excellence on the football field, boasting five state championship titles since 1988.

“When we began as the leadership team at PCHS in 2011, Mr. Wright and I saw the potential in our students and faculty and immediately made it our mission to bring that no-excuses, winning attitude that pervaded on the football field into the classrooms.”

Whitaker said leadership starts at the top.

“In Pike County, we are fortunate to have visionaries in key positions at the central office,” she said. “Studying trends in data made us aware of an issue with our seventh and eighth grade students. While they were successful in sixth grade, their proficiency levels declined sharply in the middle grade years. We knew we had to do something.”

Dr. Mark Bazzell, superintendent of Pike County Schools, the central office staff and the board of education members gave their support to “outside the box ideas,” Whitaker said.

“We were able to begin researching ideas and implementing changes from the physical layout of the classrooms to scheduling to course design,” she said.

PCHS’ involvement in the GEAR UP grant eventually led to an invaluable partnership with SREB.

“That partnership has brought in many more resources including Literacy Design Collaborative and Math Design Collaborative,” Whitaker said. “We’ve worked together with all stakeholders to elevate Pike County High to the level we are at today – a winning school both in the classroom and on the playing field.”

SREB’s High Schools That Work Staff Development Conference brings together educators from schools that have implemented the instructional strategies of the Literacy Design Collaborative, the Mathematics Design Collaborative and SREB’s Advanced Career STEM-based curricula.

Whitaker said PCHS has embraced SREB’s recommendations and is using research-based teaching skills and MMGW Key Practices to ensure that students not only graduate on time but also graduate ready for the workforce or college.

“Middle grades teachers now have common planning time and work in professional learning communities,” she said. “Every student is assigned to a mentor teacher to discuss college or career path choices, along with bullying and coping skills.”

Teachers have created a process to monitor, assess and provide interventions for struggling students.

“Teachers and staff feel valued and empowered to lead the change,” Whitaker said.