Mt. Juliet High School, the charter school Power Center Academy in Memphis and Fairview Elementary School in Anderson County were big winners Tuesday night at an awards ceremony hosted by the Tennessee nonprofit State Collaborative on Reforming Education.
Each of the schools won a “SCORE Prize” against two other finalists in their categories — high school, middle school and elementary school — and winners received $10,000 each to reward the schools’ achievements. They were chosen by SCORE for “dramatically improving student achievement in spite of the challenges they face.”
Maryville City Schools took home the biggest check, however, collecting $25,000 for being chosen the best overall school district in the state, finishing ahead of finalists Loudon County Schools and Williamson County Schools. Tennessee Commissioner of Education Kevin Huffman announced the winner in that category.
The event played out with all the drama and emotion one might expect at an awards show at the Ryman. Gov. Bill Haslam addressed the crowd before the awards were handed out.
The show, which included music from country star Josh Turner, involved tears of joy from the first winner. An emotional Karen Cupples, principal at Fairview Elementary, was joined by her staff on stage to accept the honor.
“I know teachers are working hard in every school system and every classroom, and I know we’re all on the same team,” Cupples said. “But I especially want to thank my teachers for the hard work they do each and every day, because it’s about the students and about the community.”
Cupples also thanked Frist.
“On behalf of Fairview and Anderson County schools, thank you, Senator Frist, for your vision, for making your vision a reality,” she said.
Power Center Academy, the middle school winner, serves 191 students, 85 percent of whom are economically disadvantaged. The school has seen increases in the number of students considered proficient or advanced in math and has closed an achievement gap between economically disadvantaged and non-economically disadvantaged students in reading and math.
Yetta Lewis, chief academic officer for a sponsor of the Memphis school, which is in its fourth year of existence, accepted the award.
“We are truly humbled,” Lewis said. “I just said to the team I hope I don’t cry.
“We know our work here has just begun. We’re not satisfied until we reach hundreds and hundreds of thousands of students, in Memphis and hopefully beyond. We want to have our students career-ready, college-ready and community-ready.”
Kimberly Clark, principal at the Memphis school, said after the event the award was exciting.
“So much hard work has gone into this, from our teachers, from our students, from our parents,” she said. “It’s just a wonderful event. Just a wonderful night.”
Clark said the funds would be spent on the students, with many things needed in the school.
Cupples was asked after the event what might be done with the money at Fairview Elementary.
“We’re going to decide at the school. I’m going to let the kids have input and the teachers have input, and we’re all going to decide together how we’re going to spend it,” she said. “It could be iPads. It could be technology. We’re just going to all decide together. We’re going to have a great time with it.”
Mel Brown, principal at Mt. Juliet High School in Wilson County, was fielding cell-phone calls as he exited the Ryman receiving advice from all over about how to spend the $10,000. An announcement was made at a Mt. Juliet soccer game about the school’s victory, and Brown was hearing from teachers and other principals before he could get to his car.
“Some of the students were shouting out things we needed, toward technology — more computers, more this. Anything educational, that’s what it’s going to go for,” Brown said. “There are so many things out there that you can’t afford to get. Everything is in a fund-raising mode.
“This is one where your students have done a great job, your teachers have done an unbelievable job with what we have. With that, we pick up on what our needs are. We know the chemistry labs right now need all kinds of upgraded equipment. Across the board, everybody is going to come at us with different things they need. The exciting thing about it is we are going to be able to answer some of them.”
Mt. Juliet has seen three-year growth in Tennessee Value-Added Assessment scores and has narrowed an achievement gap between Hispanic and white students in math. Fairview Elementary serves 278 students, with 60.6 percent considered economically disadvantaged. The school has increased proficiency in math and has seen three-year improvement in math and reading.
Maryville City Schools have seen three-year growth in math and reading and have a three-year ACT score average of 23.8. The district has closed the gap between Hispanic and white students in math.
Fairview was chosen over finalists Charlotte Elementary in Dickson County and John Sevier Elementary in Maryville. In the Middle School competition, Power Center Academy topped Jo Byrns High School in Robertson County and South Cumberland Elementary School in Cumberland County. Other finalists in the high school category were Fred J. Page High School in Williamson County and Maryville High School.
The awards were chosen based on performance data and then school visits. A special panel for SCORE made the decisions.
Frist seemed pleased after the event.
“To see with the first award the tears flowing, it really set the tone, I think, very appropriately for the excitement of doing a good job, of setting high expectations, having kids meet those expectations,” Frist said. “It takes a lot of work on behalf of teachers and schools, and we saw that tonight.
“It’s a celebration for the hard work that teachers, that principals, that superintendents are doing around the state, a celebration for their discipline, their dedication, their sacrifice for the benefit of students of today and of tomorrow — a huge success.”