Berkmar Middle celebrates first AYP success
Local backing, staff support cited in milestone

LILBURN - Strong community support and a dedicated group of teachers and support staff helped Berkmar Middle School achieve adequate yearly progress for the first time in its three-year history, Principal Kenney Wells said.

Berkmar Middle employees met Wednesday at Killian Hall for a celebratory luncheon, where Wells reviewed the school's history in meeting the academic standards established under the federal No Child Left Behind Act.

The state Department of Education database that outlines school performances uses green to indicate areas in which annual performance goals were met and red to denote areas in which students failed to make adequate yearly progress, or AYP.

"My new favorite color is green," Wells said. "We're going to make Berkmar Middle red, white and blue and green."

Two groups of students failed to make AYP in reading and language arts in the school's inaugural year: students with disabilities and English language learners. The following year, both groups of students made progress and made AYP in that subject, keeping Berkmar Middle from being labeled as a "needs improvement" school.

Students with disabilities, however, failed in the 2005-06 school year to make AYP in math, and attendance goals were not met because 16 percent of students in that group were absent for more than 15 days.

In this past school year, both groups made AYP in language arts and math, and attendance of students with disabilities improved, with 6.8 percent missing more than 15 days.

Wells read the children's book "Thomas and Friends: A Crack in the Track," which depicts the story of how a crack in the track brought the railway system to a halt. "A train is only as good as its track," the book ends.

"A student is only as good as the programs and people ... and teachers and custodial workers and bus drivers (and) everyone in support staff," Wells said. "A student is only as good as the track."

During the new school year, which begins Aug. 13, Wells said staff will work to increase communication with parents and offer more academic assistance programs for children. All teachers and staff members will be offered training, as well.

Berkmar Middle is a Title I school receiving additional federal funding because a large percentage of students are eligible for free and reduced lunch. The school faces the challenge of mobility, where families frequently move in and out of the campus' attendance boundaries. Students are also at an age when they are at risk for participating in gang activity.

But the school meets these challenges, and Gwinnett County Board of Education Chairwoman Louise Radloff told the school employees she was lucky to represent a school that is a role model in the county.

"We're about kids. We're about closing the achievement gap. Every child in the classroom becomes part of your extended family," Radloff said. "You will change the lives of these kids with your leadership."

Dilshad Premji, a parent of a student who transferred from a private school to attend sixth through eighth grades at Berkmar Middle, praised the teachers for taking time to communicate with parents. She recalled a Friday afternoon when a teacher "went the extra mile to make time for me and my son," staying late to explain some test results.

"This school makes a child complete in every way," she said. "This is a sign of excellence."

Wells said he invited every employee at the school to celebrate in the success, and nearly everyone attended the luncheon.

"It takes all school employees working together to achieve the gains that are needed," he said.