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Commissioner visits Shelby County school that vaulted from priority to reward status

Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen is greeted by students and staff at Springdale Memphis Magnet Elementary School during a 2015 svisit.
Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen is greeted by students and staff at Springdale Memphis Magnet Elementary School during a 2015 svisit.
Kayleigh Skinner

Usually the one asking questions in her classroom at Springdale Memphis Magnet Elementary School, kindergarten teacher Dana Donelson found herself being asked a very good question on Friday from an unexpected guest.

Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen, touring the school with a small entourage of school leaders and elected officials, stopped in to introduce herself and noted that Springdale was able to lift its TVAAS growth score from a 3 to a 5 over the course of a single year.

Kindergarten teacher Dana Donelson talks with McQueen during a visit to her classroom.
Kindergarten teacher Dana Donelson talks with McQueen during a visit to her classroom.
Kayleigh Skinnner

“Why would you say that happened?” McQueen asked, as Donelson paused from teaching her kindergarteners.

Donelson answered that she and the other teachers had put in longer hours in the last year, coming in early and leaving late daily to give students more opportunities for tutoring. She said her lessons are more hands-on than they used to be and and that, instead of just instructing, she tries to coach her young students to come to their own conclusions.

Springdale, part of Shelby County Schools, earned the distinction this year of being Tennessee’s only school to go off of the priority list of the state’s 5 percent of worst-performing schools and move straight onto its reward list of the top 5 percent of schools for academic achievement or annual growth.

Speaking later with reporters, McQueen noted the significance of the accomplishment. “It’s a school that was on the priority list, and it has moved to a rewards school based on the progress they’ve made, specifically in science and math and some progress in reading. So we’re excited to be there to celebrate with them,” the commissioner said.

A TVAAS score of 5 is the highest awarded by the state for growth. Specifically, Springdale boosted its math proficiency scores by 27 percent to almost 42 percent, its reading scores by 2 percent to 19 percent, and its science proficiency scores by 30 percent to almost 55 percent.

Double-digit gains in a single year are unusual, but Springdale principal Carmen Gregory said it was no fluke.

“It was a school-wide effort,” Gregory said, citing the school’s switch to block scheduling in the fourth and fifth grades, which changed some class periods from 45 minutes to two hours to allow more instruction time in a particular subject each day.

The school also launched a career-oriented science program, including field trips and guest speakers.

“The kids were able to make that connection between what they learned in school and what they see happening in the real world,” Gregory said. “When they’re more engaged in their work, you see a better performance from them.”

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