State Superintendent of Schools John Barge observes Barksdale Elementary School teacher Julie DeFelice working with her first-grade students on a lesson on the iPad. Barge visited Barksdale on Wednesday morning as part of his visits to some of the schools around the state that were named a state Reward School earlier this year. He visited several classrooms and also met with some teachers and school leaders during his visit. Staff Photo: Michelle Floyd
CONYERS -- Barksdale Elementary School got to show off some of its best qualities to state officials this week.
State Superintendent of Schools John Barge made a special visit to the school for about an hour on Wednesday, while he also was in town for the opening of the new Rockdale Career Academy addition. He is making visits this year to some of the state's Reward Schools.
"We are very excited and honored (for his visit) and very proud of being named a Reward School," said school Principal Jana O'Kelley.
In October, the state Department of Education announced that Barksdale Elementary was one of four Rockdale County public schools that are Reward Schools, which is one of four categories set by the state as part of the state's waiver from the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, or the federal No Child Left Behind Act. The category is reserved for schools with the highest performance or the biggest academic gains by students in the last three years.
Barksdale was named to the list in the Highest-Performing School category, which is a Title I school among the top 5 percent of Title I schools in the state that has the highest absolute performance over three years for the "all students" group on the statewide assessments. The school must have made Adequate Yearly Progress for the "all students" group and all of its subgroups in 2011.
RCPS Superintendent Richard Autry said Wednesday that the system is very appreciative of Barge's visit, which included him spending time with teachers and students and seeing first-hand what the school is doing for its students by visiting several classrooms. Autry said he was especially glad that Barge visited one of the school's science labs, since many elementary schools don't have them.
"We are very proud of Barksdale and all of our Reward Schools," Autry said. "We think this recognition is well-earned because of the hard work of this school."
On Wednesday, Barge visited a third-grade classroom during a math lesson, a science lab that was studying clouds and a first-grade classroom that was broken into small groups and working on iPads. He also shook hands with students and teachers and got a look at some students' art work and special projects that are displayed on hallway walls as he walked between classrooms.
O'Kelley said she hoped Barge saw that the school staff has high expectations for its students.
"We all work so well together as teachers, staff, students and parents," O'Kelley said. "It's everybody. It's a team effort."
At the end of his visit, Barge also spent about half an hour with some of the school's teachers and school leaders in a special round-table discussion.
"What I'm seeing is really encouraging," Barge said during the visit. "They are breaking students into smaller groups. They are teaching in multiple ways -- not all students learn the same way, and teachers recognize that."
He said the use of technology and focusing on writing in all subject areas also aid students.
Barge said the state's new grading system for schools that places them in categories like Reward Schools, as well as Priority Schools, Focus Schools and Alert Schools, will help provide a little more description for schools, rather than the previous method used. He said it will allow the state to see what schools are succeeding and which ones need more focused attention.