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Memorandum

To: Board of Trustees/Cherokee County Board/Etc.

From: Laurie Vance

Date: July 3, 2017

Re: Analysis of Avery Elementary School’s Culture

Introduction:

Description of School and Community

Avery Elementary School is located in Canton, Georgia about 40 miles north of Atlanta,

Georgia. Avery opened its doors in 2007 with an enrollment of 1,053 students in kindergarten

through fifth grade. The school received the name based on historical significance. In 1895, a

one-room schoolhouse, also named Avery, resided in the same community. Because of this fact,

the community was adamant that the new school share its namesake. According to Avery

Elementary School’s current School Improvement Plan (SIP), the dynamics of the school are as

follows, “Avery ES provides educational services for students in grades Kindergarten through

fifth. Currently, Avery has approximately 1015 students: seven classrooms in kindergarten,

seven classrooms in first, seven classrooms in second, eight classrooms in third grade, six

classrooms in fourth grade and seven classrooms in fifth grade. All students attend Art, Music,

and Physical Education throughout the week. Actual class size varies from 20 to 30 students.

Also, Avery ES has three self-contained, multi-grade special education classes that include a

teacher and paraprofessionals. Avery ES students feed to Creekland Middle School and then

Creekview High School.” (Turner, 2016)


The demographics at Avery Elementary School vary with mostly Caucasian and Hispanic

students. There are also small populations of African-American and Asian students. The

socioeconomic status is high in Avery’s districted rea. During the 2016-2017 school year,

ADvancedED visited Avery Elementary, among other schools in the Cherokee County School

District, and conducted rigorous onsite interviews and observations to determine reaccreditation

eligibility and passed.

Internal Assessment

When asked the question, “do teachers and staff meet and work together to solve

instructional, organizational, or curricular issues,” assistant principal, Michelle Whitmire,

responded by stating, “Teachers at Avery meet by grade level teams and in Professional

Learning Committees in order to collaborate on instruction and progress of their students. They

provide each other with strategies they have used in order to assist in meeting individual student

academic needs. Each staff member is a part of a school committee in which they focus on areas

such as Math, Science, ELA, Media, Technology, Leadership Team and Fitness. We do not have

required weekly staff meetings just to meet. As administrators, we value the teachers’ time to

plan, collaborate and instruct our Avery Cubs in order for them to be lifelong learners and ready

for a successful future. We feel that it is important to meet as grade levels, whole faulty/staff and

during teacher common planning, as needed.” (personal communication, June 30, 2017)

Teachers from varying grade levels went on to discuss the importance of collaboration within the

grade level during weekly planning meetings. A fifth grade teacher stated, “We utilize this time

to work together to create effective learning opportunities for our students that goes beyond the

scope of traditional learning environments.” (T. Williams, personal communication, June 30,

2017)
Teachers were given the question, “do people enjoy working together, support others, and

feel valued and included?” Whitmire stated, “As a classroom teacher for thirty-one years and an

assistant principal for the past five, I have never been a part of a group of faculty and staff

members who enjoy working together, supporting other, feel valued and included as the past two

years at Avery. As an administrative team, we strive for this to be a focus for everyone to feel

appreciated, loved and heard. We have quarterly staff, “Care and Share” Ice Cream Socials. All

three administrators have an open door policy where teachers can come pray, laugh, cry, call

parents, ask for assistance and discuss whatever is on their minds. We respect each member of

our Avery team and have been recognized by the ADvancedED organization as, “having an

Avery Way.” Our present administrative staff sees large numbers of teachers throughout our

great county applying to transfer to our GREAT school. We want our Avery reputation to be one

of teachers/staff being treated with respect, trusted to do what is best for our students at all times

and supported.” (personal communication, June 30, 2017) Third grade teacher, Jeanne Adams,

also transferred to the county from Fulton after seventeen years of teaching with the intent of

opening the doors of Avery ten years ago. She stated, “I have worked at many schools

throughout my career. Few of those meet the atmosphere we have created at Avery. It is a

pleasure to work with my colleagues and peers in an environment where we are respected and

valued as educators and not just employees.” (personal communication, June 30, 2017)

In regards to efficacy and self-determination, the questions, “Are people in this school

because they want to be? Do they work to improve their skills as professionals, or do they see

themselves as victims of a large and uncaring bureaucracy?” generated many responses.

Assistant Principal, Michelle Whitmire, stated, “I honestly feel that our teachers & staff are at

Avery because they want to be a part of the Avery family! We also have a large number of
parent volunteers who go through an application process in order to be a part of our students’

learning, growing academically, mentoring and assisting within our school. Our AWESOME

school is on fire with teachers who are reaching out and excited to learn. Many are furthering

their own education, volunteering on county curriculum committees, and participating in

ongoing training. We will serve as a pilot school for the Cherokee County School District for

two programs this coming school year. One is designated “Personal Learning Time” for our

students and the other is to be a Model School in order to assist other schools with successful

Professional Learning Committees. We do not have to beg our teachers to participate in

opportunities which improve their skills, share their learning/strategies and in turn directly

benefit our students.” (personal communication, June 30, 2017) Jennifer Cowart, second grade

teacher at Avery, stated, “As educators, it is easy to get lost in the idea of a large and uncaring

bureaucracy as teachers continue to accumulate added requirements of data collection and

paperwork in addition to lesson planning and teaching we already do. However, we are fortunate

enough to work for an administrative team that fosters goal-oriented working environments that

benefit both teachers and students.” (personal communication, June 30, 2017) Teachers went on

to include the amount of time spent outside of the classroom on planning and additional time

spent working in clubs and activities. Many of them also expressed concerns about the general

public being unaware of the amount of time and money teachers actually spend in the classroom.

When asked if “the faculty is reflective of the student population,” responses were in

agreement in unison. Whitmire added, “Yes, all students are respected by our faculty/staff and

we have designated faculty, general faculty or staff members available to as assist in meeting

educational and family needs.” (personal communication, June 30, 2017) In addition, fifth grade

teacher, Trayce Williams, responded, “Yes, our faculty strives to make accommodations to
student needs specific to the individual. An example of this I have seen this through our

counselors. They work diligently throughout the year to make sure our students are cared for and

taken care of both inside and outside of school. Some ways they do this are through weekly

backpacks of food for the weekend, school supply needs, and Christmas presents for students in

need.” (personal communication, June 30, 2017)

When asked if “there is diversity within the staff/faculty?” Assistant principal, Michelle

Whitmire, stated, “Yes, there is diversity within our staff/faculty.” (personal communication,

June 30, 2017) Based on information provided by Cherokee County School District, the school

has approximately 109 staff members. Of those members, ninety-eight percent of the staff is

Caucasian, one percent is African American, and one percent is Hispanic. The staff is primarily

female with only four male faculty members, one of which is an assistant principal. (Cherokee

County School District, 2016) The team members agreed this could be an area of improvement

for the future. When asked, “Are diversity topics discussed, ignored, tolerated, embraced, or

reactive in the student curricula and professional development,” Whitmire responded, “Diversity

topics are readily addressed as needed by/for students and teachers.” (personal communication,

June 30, 2017) The rest of the team agreed.

Continuing the topic of valuing diversity, the team was asked, “is there self-segregation

among staff and students?” Whitmire responded by saying, “This has not been observed and we

would deal with it immediately and professionally in order to alleviate any circumstance for it to

arise.” (personal communication, June 30, 2017) Third grade teacher, Jeanne Adams, went on to

discuss the great lengths many teachers go to in order to display professionalism both inside and

outside of the classroom. (personal communication, June 30, 2017)


The next, and final, question in regards to diversity was, “Is everyone valued regardless

of gender, sexual orientation, race, religion, nationality, ability level, age, experience, ethnicity,

etc?” Whitmire stated, “Yes, we strive for every student, teacher, staff member, parent, volunteer

and visitor to Avery to feel valued.” (personal communication, June 30, 2017) Second grade

teacher, Jennifer Cowart, added to this by saying, “Our administration does a great job of leading

by example on how to treat our students, parents, and coworkers. We are extremely fortunate to

work for a team that fosters a positive working environment regardless of race, gender, religion,

or ethnicity. I have personally seen our administrators also demonstrate this welcoming

atmosphere in the community at activities such as sporting events and Avery’s Bojangles night

as well.” (personal communication, June 30, 2017)

Finally, when asked, “[were] there any other issues at work that influenced the culture of

the school,” most of the answers were positive. Michelle Whitmire went on to say, “Personally, I

do not feel that there are any other issues at Avery that negatively influence the culture of our

school. We strive continuously for Avery to be more than a “place to work” and “school to go

to” for our faculty, staff and students. We have the expectation for and trust that our teachers are

prepared and students are learning. We continually strive to support our teachers. We promote

collaboration and making our school the best it can be for everyone. Our Administrative team

strives to frequently make ourselves visible throughout the school and in the classrooms. If a

situation does arrive, it is handled individually with the person(s) involved and respectfully by

administration.” (personal communication, June 30, 2017) However, one of the teachers added

concerns in regards to the clustering of classes each year and the effects on parent involvement

inside and outside of the classroom. Another teacher mentioned how the lack of substitute money

later in the year was causing frustration for faculty members.


One of the greatest areas of concern mentioned was the effect of socioeconomic status in

regards to standardized testing and student achievement. Over the past few years, Avery has

received a rise in population of ESOL students. Based on this fact, reaching these students was a

focus in this year’s SIP plan. The goal was to, “Increase student achievement with English

Language Learners and Students with Disabilities with Problem-Solving Teaching.” (Turner,

2016) One teacher mentioned the lack of resources we have to reach these underperforming

students. In addition to increasing populations of ESOL students, there has also been a rise in

students with disabilities, not only at Avery Elementary, but across the district as well. Because

of this fact, additional classrooms have been added to meet the needs of each of these individual

students. Examples of these additions include MIMO (Mild-Moderate) classrooms and SID/PID

(Severe and Profound) classrooms.

Description of Teachers/Administrators

Michelle Whitmire, assistant principal at Avery Elementary for the last five years, was

surveyed along with three other teachers from various grade levels. Among these teachers was

Trayce Williams, fifth grade teacher and Teacher of the Year during the 2015-2016 school year.

Jeanne Adams, third grade teacher for twenty-nine years with a Specialist Degree in Education,

and Jennifer Cowart, second grade teacher of three years. All teachers were white, between the

ages of 30-45. Teaching experience ranged three to thirty-one years. Of the three teachers

interviewed, only two of the teachers taught all subjects.

Data Collection

Three teachers from Avery collaborated on asking interview questions to a team of

teachers and an administrative representative in order to discuss Avery Elementary School’s


culture and environment. This was determined as the most effective means of answering the

School Culture Discussion Questions. Because of the positive working environment throughout

the school, teachers and administration seemed to answer interview questions with openness and

honesty. However, due to convenience and scheduling conflicts, answers were unable to remain

anonymous. These facts should be taken into consideration upon review of the summary of the

findings.

Summary of Findings

Based on the findings from the data collected from the interviews, Avery seems to have

an extremely positive working environment that extends beyond the four walls of the school

building and throughout the community. This positive environment is felt at sporting events as

well as outside school functions. Expectations of faculty, staff, and students are clear, and the

administration leads by example. Teachers exude professionalism and work to foster learning

environments where student growth and achievement is of utmost importance. Educators seek to

continue education in order to prepare themselves, and their students, for success in the future.

Conclusion:

Recommendations on External Environment

While there are many schools in Cherokee County with high populations of Hispanic

students, Avery is not one of them. Avery is not the most affluent school in the district and many

of the students come from a middle to high socioeconomic status. During the interview, two

main concerns I noted from teachers were the lack of parent involvement in various clustered

classrooms and the effects of socioeconomic status in regards to standardized testing. Based on

my personal experience, these two go hand-in-hand. This past year, I taught the ESOL clustered
classroom, and of my 25 students, 14 of those were ESOL. Most of my students lived in trailers

and received free and reduced lunch. Many of my parents wanted to help in the classroom, and at

home, but lacked the basic communication skills to do so. These students also did not have

access to computers in their homes either. As mentioned in the interview above, Avery has many

volunteers who are willing to assist in the classroom; however, when classes are grouped

together in clusters (i.e. gifted, co-taught, ESOL, SPED, etc.) this places most of these parent

volunteers into similar classrooms. Without the additional assistance from outside sources, it is

difficult for the classroom teacher to meet the needs of every student. This concern directly

correlates to student performance, especially in regards to standardized testing. It is imperative

for administration at Avery to take the necessary precautions and considerations when grouping

students together. As mentioned in the interview above by Michelle Whitmire, our school will be

piloting a new program in order to address these issues. Homerooms will not be clustered as they

were previously. Students will be spread out among grade level teachers and will receive the

instruction needed during their “Personal Learning Time.” This allocated segment allows

teachers to reach more students and cater instruction to their individual needs, while also

spreading out parent volunteers to all teachers. In the article, “The Change Leader,” Fullan says,

“Student learning is paramount to the Cultural Change Principal…. In the social and moral

environment of the school, we need the resources to close the achievement gap between high and

low performers.” (Fullan, 2002) By providing students with additional time with peer role

models outside of their assigned cluster as well as additional time with parent volunteers, we are

preparing to close the achievement gap between underperforming students and high performers.

These resources better prepare students for the future.


References

Cherokee County School District. (2016). Avery Elementary School: About Avery Elementary

School. Received from: http://cherokeek12.net/averyes/about/

Cherokee County School District. (2016). Avery Elementary School: Faculty/ Staff. Received

from: https://cherokeek12.net/averyes/faculty-staff/

Fullan, M. (2002). Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development: The Change.

Received from: https://kennesaw.view.usg.edu/d2l/le/content/1328107/

viewContent/19964677/View?ou=1328107

Turner, L. (2016). Avery Elementary 2016-2017 School Improvement Plan. Received from:

http://cherokeek12.net/averyes/wp-content/uploads/sites/19/2016/12/Avery-ES-

Consolidated-SIP-2016-17.pdf