No shortage of good news from Gwinnett schools in my 5 years

This is a bittersweet moment for me. After nearly five years of covering education in Gwinnett County, I'm retiring from the newspaper business.

While I'm excited about my future career plans, there's much I will miss about being the education reporter for this community newspaper.

One of the things I've enjoyed most about working for the Gwinnett Daily Post has been having the ability to shine the spotlight on the good things happening throughout the county. Journalists have a responsibility to report information that impacts the residents of its coverage area, and many times, those stories fall under the umbrella of "bad news." I've always been a believer that people deserve to know the good that's going on in their community, too.

And there's a lot that's good about the schools in Gwinnett County. Are they perfect? Of course not. Nothing in this world is. But Gwinnett County Public Schools has received national recognition from organizations like the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation and the Alliance to Reform Education Leadership for a reason.

Take, for example, the friendly competition between John Campbell, principal of Osborne Middle School, and Wanda Law, principal of North Gwinnett Middle School. The two schools had the highest scores in the state on the Grade 8 Writing Assessment and were among the highest performers in the county on the state Criterion-Referenced Competency Tests.

Campbell and Law have publicly ribbed each other about wanting their scores to best the other's. Their competition isn't about wanting the other to fail; it's about wanting to improve -- and knowing they can, even when their performance is already fantastic. That culture of pursuing improvement permeates throughout the school district.

It's not just the schools in the wealthier part of the district that have achieved success. If you think I don't know that, you've probably missed many of my stories throughout the years.

Throughout the nation, schools with a high percentage of kids living in poverty -- kids who are considered "economically disadvantaged" -- typically lag behind in academic achievement.

Here in Gwinnett, I think our schools in the Berkmar and Meadowcreek clusters get unfairly labeled as "bad" schools because their performance doesn't match that of the Brookwood or North Gwinnett clusters. Test scores are important, but they are just one indicator of the quality of the school.

Berkmar High has a model for its Advanced Placement program that has received attention from teachers throughout the Southeast. For years, it has also had one of the best Academic Decathlon teams in the state.

Meadowcreek High has an outstanding culinary arts program, with a team that placed second in the southern regional division of a national competition this spring.

Eighth-graders at Lilburn Middle School proved to the community -- and themselves -- that they could rock the state writing test when the school's passing rate rose a phenomenal 21 percentage points to 92.5 percent this spring.

Berkmar Middle is home to Dana Griffin, the first-ever NFL Network's P.E. Teacher of the Year. She dedicates her time to not only providing kids with engaging experiences during school hours, but offering before- and after-school programs to students and their families.

Kelly Stopp, a teacher at Meadowcreek Elementary, was the recipient of the prestigious Milken Educator Award and dedicated a portion of her $25,000 award to a community program she created with two others in the school. Once a month, the trio of educators visits an apartment complex near the school to read stories to students, teach parents about activities they can do at home to help enhance their kids' reading skills, and give each child a book.

That's just a sampling of the good news from schools that I've been able to highlight in recent months. If you're willing, you can find good news happening in every school.

And I hope you will.

Good News From Schools appears in the Sunday edition of the Gwinnett Daily Post.