Fort Middle School celebrates being one of six schools in Georgia honored for customer service.
The award was announced three months ago, but the celebration still seemed freshly joyful Monday at Fort Middle School as state superintendent Richard Woods presented a plaque and a super-sized welcome mat to officially designate Fort as one of the six 2016 Georgia Family-Friendly Partnership Schools.
The music was old school – “Celebration” by Kool & the Gang and “We are Family” by Sister Sledge – and the tremendous cheers from the students, staff and supporters gathered in Fort’s gym prompted state Sen. Ed Harbison, D-Columbus, to say, “It sounds like a Marine Corps boot camp on steroids.”
The Georgia Department of Education determined Fort to be among the schools that deliver the best customer service in the state. The others are Buford Elementary School in Buford, Woodward Elementary School in DeKalb County and three elementary schools in Gwinnett County: Hopkins, Norton and Peachtree.
Fort principal Sonja Coaxum noted Fort is the only secondary school on the list.
Muscogee County School District superintendent David Lewis praised the leadership from Coaxum and her staff. Then he told the crowd, “It takes more than just schools to do this work. There are three legs to any school, and it requires the school, parents and the community. And this award is indicative of a school that has really taken the idea of being family friendly, ensuring parents are welcomed – not only welcomed but encouraged to be a part of the learning and the teaching and the education of young people.”
To be considered for the award, schools must apply and describe their family engagement programs. Sixteen schools applied for this year’s award, department spokeswoman Meghan Frick told the Ledger-Enquirer in June, when the winners were announced. Only schools designated as Title I are eligible, because the award is part of the GaDOE’s federally funded Parent Engagement Program, which ensures Title I parent involvement regulations are met, Frick said. But schools on the state’s Priority or Focus lists aren’t eligible for the award.
Title I schools receive extra federal funding if at least 40 percent of their students come from impoverished families. Priority Schools are among the state’s lowest 5 percent of Title I schools in academic achievement. Focus Schools are among the state’s lowest 10 percent of Title I schools in achievement gap, which is the gap between the school’s bottom quartile of students and the state average, as well as the degree to which that gap is closing.
Woods described in a different way what being a Title I school means.
“You just face some challenges that other schools do not necessarily start off with,” Woods told the crowd. “It doesn’t mean you can’t overcome. It just means you have to arrive at solutions that perhaps other people don’t have to think about and face. But obviously that’s what you’ve done here at Fort. You have looked at the challenges, you have looked at the obstacles, and you have said, ‘That will not stop us from succeeding.’”
The Family-Friendly Partnership Review Team comprises representatives from the GaDOE, the Georgia Association of Educators, Voices for Georgia’s Children and the Georgia School Superintendent’s Parent Advisory Council. Review team members made surprise visits to the nine finalists. They posed as parents looking for information or assistance. They also toured the schools and interviewed staff, parents, students and other residents. As many as 10 schools may receive the award each year.
The Family-Friendly Partnership School initiative is organized by the GaDOE and sponsored by the Georgia Foundation for Public Education, the Georgia Association of Educators and three Ritz-Carlton hotels in Georgia: the Ritz-Carlton Atlanta (Downtown), the Ritz-Carlton Buckhead and the Ritz-Carlton Lodge on Reynolds Plantation at Lake Oconee.
Groups from the winning schools learn more about providing welcoming environments during a seminar hosted by the Ritz-Carlton Leadership Center.
Fort has a magnet academy that focuses on service learning. Back in June, Coaxum listed the following initiatives and programs the school has implemented to be considered family friendly:
▪ Automated messages are sent via phone and email to parents every Sunday to keep them updated about the school.
▪ Teachers use schoolnotes.com to post weekly updates each Monday. This program informs parents about school and classroom activities and homework.
▪ The Parents of the Month award honors two parents each month for their support and assistance to the school. Any student, teacher, administrator or parent at Fort may nominate someone.
▪ The Parent Resource Room allows parents to use computers and receive assistance.
▪ Title I Parent Workshops are conducted throughout the school year.
▪ The annual Grandparents Day in October celebrates their role. Fort also conducts a workshop that shows how they can better assist their grandchildren’s education.
▪ The annual Dessert Night for parents with special-needs children includes a workshop that reviews the importance of their IEP (Individualized Education Plan) informs them about available resources to assist students and parents.
▪ Parents are invited to visit the school and observe their child in the classroom.
▪ The annual Legacy Day honors individuals who have made great contributions to the community.