Students Benefit from 'No Excuses' Approach; Staff, Technology Help School to Exceed Academic Standards

Article excerpt

Byline: Teresa Stepzinski, The Times-Union

BRUNSWICK -- Students log on to learning at Satilla Marsh Elementary School with an innovative computer program.

They also connect with their teachers through classroom lessons designed to challenge their minds and nurture their creativity.

In January, the southern Glynn County school was recognized as a Title 1 Distinguished School by the Georgia Department of Education.

The award signifies that for three consecutive years Satilla Marsh students have met or exceeded "adequate yearly progress" academic standards established by the federal No Child Left Behind Act. It also recognizes Satilla Marsh as "a model of the best practices among schools with similar demographics.

The school has 671 students enrolled in pre-kindergarten through fifth grade. The students come from low- to high-income families. Many are from homes where both parents work, Principal Darlene Moye said.

About 40 percent of the students are eligible for free or reduced price school meals. Student attendance is high -- averaging 96 percent daily, records show.

The school staff includes 42 certified personnel including teachers plus 13 paraprofessionals.

The school has excelled because of its dedicated, highly motivated teachers and administrators, as well as active participation by parents, said Glynn County Assistant Superintendent Stephen Elrod.

Moye and the school's staff have initiated innovative educational programs and adopted a "no excuses" philosophy when it comes to learning, said Elrod, who oversees student achievement in the county school district.

Satilla Marsh was the first in the system to implement SuccessMaker -- a computer-assisted instruction and tutoring program for reading/language arts and math.

The program presents students with a gradually escalating series of reading comprehension exercises and math problems. The difficulty level adapts to each student's skills, and supplements their instruction they receive in the classroom, said Jean Lees, who oversees the school computer lab where students work with the program.

"SuccessMarker really works and the kids like doing it. The biggest thing is, the more they work with the program, the better they get. It works to develop and reinforce what they are learning," Lees said.

Fifth-grader Kanisha Grant, 11, was in computer lab at 7:30 a.m. Tuesday doing math problems with the program as 15 students from other grade levels worked nearby on their lessons.

"I llike doing this because it's going to help me get to sixth grade, and I like doing math, it's my favorite subject," said Kanisha, who wants to become a lawyer when she grows up.

Based on Satilla Marsh's success with the program, Elrod said, officials plan to implement it at Golden Isles, Altama and Goodyear elementaries.

"It all boils down to leadership. Darlene gives 150 percent, the teachers give 150 percent and they are true advocates for the students," Elrod said. "The expectation at Satilla Marsh is that there are no excuses for failure. The teachers and staff do everything they can to help the students and they do it because that's what Darlene does."

Moye became principal about five years ago after serving as assistant principal at the school. She and her staff keep in close contact with the parents. If a student is absent and their parent hasn't called in to report it, school personnel call the parent to check on the situation.

Recently, Moye went out in a pre-dawn search for a student after learning the child had been walking through an industrial area to and from the school bus stop. Moye then offered to bring the child to school until the family could find alternate transportation.

Consistency also is key to the school's success, Elrod said.

"They have a quality, consistent staff. There is very little staff turnover, which demonstrates that there is good job satisfaction. …