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Suwanee's Level Creek celebrates being a state School of Excellence

Staff Photo: Keith Farner The chorus at Level Creek Elementary perform songs from the musical "Annie," including "Tomorrow" and "A Hard Knock Life" at the School of Excellence celebration on Monday.

Staff Photo: Keith Farner The chorus at Level Creek Elementary perform songs from the musical "Annie," including "Tomorrow" and "A Hard Knock Life" at the School of Excellence celebration on Monday.

SUWANEE -- With an atmosphere that included a song and dance performance from a Spanish class, a chorus performance of hits from the musical "Annie," and a drum solo, Level Creek Elementary didn't hold much back when it celebrated a top state education honor on Monday.

With dignitaries such as state Superintendent of Schools John Barge, Gwinnett Public Schools Superintendent J. Alvin Wilbanks, Area V Superintendent Nancy Martin and Suwanee Mayor Jimmy Burnette, Principal Nancy Kiel and the school's teachers, staff and students put on a show. The school celebrated being named a Georgia School of Excellence, one of 26 schools around the state and the only one in Gwinnett County. Level Creek was listed among 13 schools who made the "greatest gains" in reading and math assessments in the last three years.

"Obviously, you're talented," Barge told the students. "You're incredibly cute, and we're here to honor your smarts. You have a lot going on."

For the honor, the school accepted a $1,000 check from Georgia Natural Gas. Kiel said the school would spend the money on professional development for teachers. Specifically, it will be for training on the use of questioning in daily work with students to learn at a deeper level, she said. On May 24, two national trainers will visit the school from the Junior Great Books, which is an independent, non-profit educational organization.

Kiel said the school, in its eighth year, built its foundation by being a part of the North Gwinnett cluster's tradition of academics and leadership. It was important to show the students, Kiel said, that their choices matter, and they can make a contribution, even at their age.

"This is one of our best days, definitely," Kiel said of the school year. "To have this state recognition of our local community is very, very important. Today was affirmation that all of our hard work and efforts are working out, and we're doing great."

At the celebration in the school's cafeteria, Barge applauded the students and teachers on the honor, and noted the stress level at hand for teachers.

"When you feel that stress level get high," Barge said, "(remember) you're not just changing the lives of children in that room, you're changing generations."

Wilbanks thanked parents and teachers, and said a third- or fourth-grade teacher has as much impact on a student's ACT or SAT score as a 10th or 11th grade teacher.

"Students," he told them, "you're the ones who earned this distinction, the reason we're all here this morning."

Afterward, Wilbanks said the school represents a cross-section of parental involvement and a diverse teaching staff with a several levels of experience.

"The kids are the ones who are receptive to the instruction and do a great job," he said. "For three years, they've been improving, and reached this level, and that's almost unheard of."