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New school - same challenges
Liberty Middle inherits Clements attendance zones, state-directed status
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When Newton County students begin their school year tomorrow, an estimated 864 will be attending Liberty Middle School – a brand new school that has inherited Clements Middle School’s failing AYP numbers and state-directed status while the old middle school becomes home to a theme school and the former principal moves on to Alcovy High School as an assistant principal.

"The AYP results follow the children and technically have nothing do with the physical space," said Newton County School System Board of Education Chair Dr. C.C. Bates. "As the CRCT results transfer with the children, it is my understanding the AYP status does as well.

Opened in 1994, CMS has failed to meet Adequate Yearly Progress every year except one, since the Criterion-Referenced Competency Tests were implemented by the 2001 No Child Left Behind Act. The school did make AYP in the 2007-2008 school year, but that was not enough to pull it from the Needs Improvement list, which requires a school to meet AYP for two consecutive years.

"Even though the school as a whole met the standards, a specific subgroup barely missed meeting the annual measurable objective in reading and mathematics on the preliminary data release," said Steven Whatley, NCSS superintendent.

Currently CMS is on the Needs Improvement list and since it has been on that list for seven years the system must offer both public school choice and supplemental education (tutoring) services for its students. The school is also in state-directed status, meaning that an official from the state Department of Education is on-site full-time and "will provide direct supervision in the implementation of all school improvement actions" and is "directly involved in decisions regarding replacement of staff (e.g. principal)."

But at the start of the 2009-2010 school year, Liberty will inherit all of Clements’ woes as it will have the same attendance zones originally assigned to CMS.

"It was recommended in December when the theme school plan was approved by the Board of Education that the building of Clements Middle School would house the theme school and that the Clements zone would attend Liberty Middle School," Whatley said. "The core facilities of Liberty Middle School are designed to accommodate 1,500 students. The building will provide for the population in the Clements zone both as it continues to grow and as it is removed from the Needs Improvement list."

One thing that will not transfer is former principal Dr. Sylvia Jordan who became principal at Clements in 2002 and last year made more than $100,000 according to records available on

"AYP is based on a number of criteria and each year you are going to have different results," said Jordan. "We have always reviewed the data to determine areas we need to focus on and work to improve in the coming year. By doing this, Clements was able to make AYP in 2007-2008 and the school barely missed making AYP again this year according to the first report. Once the retest data is calculated, it’s possible the school could make AYP for 2008-2009 and if that’s the case, Clements would no longer be in Needs Improvement. If the school doesn’t make AYP, I’m sure the administrators and faculty at Liberty will work together to develop a plan of action for this school year. The staff at Clements was always 100 percent committed to providing the best education possible for the students and I have no doubt that they will continue that same high standard at Liberty because they truly care about the children."

According to NCSS Public Relations Director Sherri Viniard, Jordan’s move to Alcovy High had nothing to do with Clements’ state director.

"Dr. Jordan’s transfer was not state requested," Viniard said in an e-mail. "The school superintendent places administrators at schools to create what he feels is the best leadership team possible for that particular school."

At AHS Jordan will oversee 12th grade discipline, observe the math and social studies departments and supervise testing and data analysis.

Victor Lee, principal for Liberty Middle School, which will inherit Clements’ scores, said that the students failed by a very small percentage in the 2008-2009 AYP, saying that he did not consider the CMS scores "baggage."

"In language arts/reading and math their scores were six to 13 percent above the required percentage before the retakes," said Lee. "The most recent update indicates that CMS/LMS did not make AYP by 0.1 percent in the area of math for students with disabilities (SWD) and 0.7 percent in the area of language arts/reading for SWD. This data indicates that the CMS/LMS faculty and staff worked very hard to make AYP for the second year in a row and came up short by less than one percent in the two areas. I am proud," he continued, "to inherit such a dedicated and caring faculty that has worked so hard these past two years."

While the new school will inherit the old problems, CMS has been turned into a parental involvement theme school where more than 400 students are estimated to attend grades four through eight. The board chose to have the theme school housed at Clements in an effort to revive the school, according to Bates.

"While CMS has struggled for years, there were children that were successful there, unfortunately, we only hear about the failures," said Bates. "Theme schools and magnets are often housed in schools or geographic areas that have a negative reputation. Theoretically as a "new" theme or magnet school achieves success, children are attracted back because of this."

Lee said that Liberty’s leadership team, which is comprised of administrators, counselors and teachers, attended a four-day leadership academy hosted by the department of education. During that time he said the group learned methods of targeting students who may need extra support.

"Our goal is to build on the hard work and efforts of the faculty and staff of CMS/LMS and add the knowledge that we gained this summer." Lee said. "Again, I must emphasize how proud I am to have the opportunity to work with such a dedicated and caring faculty."

But is this dedication too little, too late? Although GaDOE Communications and Marketing Coordinator Matt Cardoza said in an e-mail that the state "has no legal authority to close schools," they do look at schools that are in state-directed status on an annual basis to determine what changes need to be made.

Additionally, a school in Needs Improvement costs the system money because more Title I funds — extra funding granted to districts based on their schools’ percentages of economically disadvantaged students — in the system’s budget must go toward supplemental services or public school choice.

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