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The new principal at Vick Elementary School said she is excited about shepherding improvement in student performance at the school.
Pamela Walthall is formerly the principal at Gardners Elementary School, where she had been for eight years. She has been an educator for 27 years.
Vick is receiving a $1,003,338 federal school improvement grant to be implemented over five years. Barnes Elementary and Darden Middle schools are also receiving grants.
Part of Vick’s money has been spent painting the interior of the school, pulling out old carpeting, installing tiles and removing discontinued and outdated educational materials.
Walthall points to the reaction of one student when she walked into the school to see the improvements.
“She gasped,” Walthall said. “She said ‘Oh, they painted my school. I love it.’”
“We have gone through a rigorous time frame in order to set and establish the school,” Walthall said. “A lot of cosmetic things have been done.”
Besides brick and mortar improvements to the facility, also improved is the sense among teachers that they can help the students.
“The climate is positive. The teachers are energetic. The students are focused,” Walthall said. “We are very hopeful and certain that we can see some growth in all of our students here. We expect our attendance to improve, our achievement to improve in reading, math and science under the framework of what they call the multi-tier support system and the positive behavior intervention support system. Along with our business partners in the community, we think that we can help these children a great deal.”
Recently released end-of-grade testing revealed that Vick is the lowest performing among elementary schools in the county. The school has 299 students from kindergarten to fifth grade plus 40 prekindergarten children.
“The first thing that we are going to try to do as a team here is establish some basic operational procedures in our building to solidify how we function,” Walthall said. “Much of that we have done.”
The school has an instructional coach and a grant coach on the site to administer the use of the federal funds. Part of that is development of a school improvement plan.
“We have established a leadership team, which is a requirement of all the schools,” Walthall said. “That leadership team has representation from grade levels. That is going to be our guiding piece in terms of collaborative planning to improve the school achievement for all the students.”
The school is instituting instructional procedures based on some of the coaching that the district has offered to the teachers in terms of guided reading groups, math groups, whole group instruction.
“The district has been very supportive and has taken a lead role in making sure that all our teachers are trained and ready to set up the classrooms so that they can be conducive to all students learning,” Walthall said. “They have also provided administrative leadership training in our learning focus lesson planning to support the teachers.”
In addition to establishing a leadership team, the school has set up a monitoring system where the administrators know how to monitor the progress, a method to look at school performance for continuous growth, procedures for recruiting and evaluating and rewarding staff, procedures for communicating with parents, procedures for involving parents in setting expectations for the school, continuous professional development as needed and maintenance of a positive learning environment through climate, curriculum and communication.
Several months ago, WCS offered $10,000 signing bonuses to teachers who were willing to take educational positions at Vick. The federal grant paid for that. Some 10 new teachers, mostly from other Wilson County schools, came on board.
Walthall was on the interview team for the prospective teachers.
“What the people addressed during the interviews was their passion for learning, their commitment to the children, their willingness to take a challenge and to help the students here, to grow from the experience and to change the setting,” Walthall said. “I was most impressed with the commitment and dedication to working in and environment where the needs are high in terms of performance, based on the data, and their commitment to making it happen.”
“We are excited to be here,” Walthall said of her team. “Our expectations are high.”