NOVEMBER 13, 2018 — Andrea Sloan was so disappointed in her school's end of year test scores in 2016 that she questioned whether Lee County Schools had made a mistake in hiring her to be the principal at Tramway Elementary.
“We had great year, we were plugging right along. Then the end of the year came and went. Everyone worked very hard,” Sloan told a gathering of students and educators on Tuesday morning at the Dennis A. Wicker Civic Center in Sanford. “But when proficiency and growth numbers came in, we were not satisfied. In fact, I would say I was devastated. Our overall proficiency had dropped. Our letter grade dropped. We didn't meet growth by a long shot. And it hurt. But not for long.”
Sloan, a former district Assistant Principal of the Year went on to describe to the gathering the many steps she and her administration at Tramway took to right the ship. And those steps worked, because Tuesday's gathering was in honor of Sloan, her faculty and her student body at Tramway Elementary, which was named the winner of this year's Head of Class award.
“I truly believe that we had and still have the talent on our campus in terms of staff and students to meet our goals every year,” Sloan continued. “We just had to structure our school for our teacher experts to let their leadership show through.”
The award is a project of the Lee County Education Foundation, which has been giving the prize to an individual school in Lee County since 2011. The award recognizes Lee County Schools' best-performing elementary school on a number of criteria, including test scores and school demographics. The winning school's staff – from the principal to the custodians – split the $50,000 award in a merit-pay program that has been hailed by leaders from across North Carolina as an innovative way to reward achievement by a public-private partnership.
At Tuesday's ceremony, as is customary, students from the winning school spoke about the work they'd done and the things they'd learned over the last year.
“Each morning the students and staff stopped to take time to come together and focus on our tasks for the day,” said fifth grader Jose Montanez. “We do this by taking our Tiger Shark pledge together as one.”
“We start with being safe,” continued fellow fifth grader Greyson Matthews. “All staff and students practice safety and work together to follow school rules and listen carefully. We know it is important for us to feel safe at school to be able to learn and stay focused.”
Montanez said an example of the students and staff working together – and encouraging one another – to reach a single outcome was a third grade project he was a part of.
“It was fun being able to use our creativity and work together,” he said. “We messed up more than a few times, but through our mess-ups, we were able to be problem solvers and learners.”
“We also have to remind each other to put first things first by getting classwork done before moving to other tasks, reminding each other to do homework before playing and managing our time to include school and after school activities,” Matthews added.
The ceremony was attended by several community leaders – including members of the Foundation and current and past members of the Lee County Board of Education. Many of them took turns speaking about Sloan and Tramway's achievement.
“I think it's important for those of you who are parents and community members to understand how our teachers and how our leaders respond to challenges,” said Foundation Chairman Bill Horner III, who emceed the ceremony. “The way that Andrea Sloan and her staff did is the epitome of what we are all about in the Foundation in terms of recognizing schools.”
Mark Akinosho, chairman of the Lee County Board of Education, said the Head of Class program is a great motivator for all of the district's elementary schools to achieve.
“The Foundation made it possible for us to recognize you and create this competition, which is a very healthy one,” he said. “When you think of where we were 10 years ago – we know where we used to be, and we know where we are now and I know where we need to go.”
Lee County Schools Superintendent Dr. Andy Bryan said the support the district receives from community businesses, nonprofits and faith-based organizations is indispensable and added that no one should be more proud than the students themselves.
“I think you, the students, have done a great job in achieving these scores,” he said. “So give yourself a round of applause.”
As Sloan closed the ceremony, she said that the achievement she, her staff and her students were being recognized for may have been the result of a lot of hard work, but wasn't even a part of the plan.
“We realized we were only as good as our team,” she said. “We were determined to make the next year ours, and we made a plan. Head of Class wasn't really in our sight. We were just competing against ourselves, for the sake of our students.”
But to the staff at Tramway, winning the Head of Class Award was the ultimate achievement.
Article was initially published by Lee County Schools in INSPIRED, its award-winning digital digest. It is reprinted with permission.