ANACONDA - Of all the artwork and posters that decorate Fred Moodry Middle School's main hall, one blue flag hangs just a little higher than the rest.
Like most flags, it is a uniting symbol to those who helped raise it. It honors progress, achievement and teamwork, with bold white words that say it all: Distinguished School.
The National Title I Association recently honored Fred Moodry as one of its distinguished schools for 2009. Only two schools from Montana received the award, joining 63 nationwide.
Principal Sue Meredith and teachers Tami Kissell and Shannon Matosich traveled to Washington, D.C. earlier this year for the National Title I Conference honoring all selected schools.
"It was a very exhilarating
experience," Meredith said. "We have worked so hard to make changes and do what's right for the children."
The State Office of Public Instruction in Helena further awarded Fred Moodry Middle School an Academic Achievement Award and $30,000 grant for its distinction.
Students have consistently
performed beyond expectations
established by the No Child Left Behind Act for nearly four years now, Meredith said, and that emerging academic
consistency is what earned national honors.
During that time, the school showed
See SCHOOL, Page A8
the highest improvement status on the MontCAS state standardized exams, Meredith said.
"Our push at this school is our core classes," Meredith said. "We have to get students up to par with others in the country and the world."
The award-winning performance didn't come overnight, Meredith said. Six years ago, the school failed to make adequate yearly progress in its reading scores.
Meredith, seven teachers and two parents all came together to form the Continuous School Improvement Leadership Team. After researching different reading programs aimed to raise test scores, it adopted the SRA Corrective Reading Program.
The program uses four levels for decoding and four for comprehension, Meredith said, to appropriately place students right away.
Scores rose 20 percent in one year, Meredith said, and now 86 percent of students are scoring proficient or advanced in reading, where the MontCAS standard is 83 percent.
"We just continue to fine-tune everything we do. It's an ongoing process," Meredith said.
Another key component to overall academic excellence is a hands-on approach to lesson plans, Meredith said, an attitude instilled in every teacher across the faculty.
Carlton Nelson began teaching science at Fred Moodry seven years ago, and said the distinguished school award is a great kudos to all the teachers.
"I think the staff is very excited as a whole to receive national recognition," Nelson said. "We put a lot of work into getting our school to where it should be."
Nelson agreed hands-on activities are important to kids' retention of lessons, especially in science. His "Isaac Newton Olympics" is an example of how he keeps the classroom interesting.
"We had a standing long jump, a tennis ball throw, rubber ball slalom ... you tie those in to learning Newton's three laws of motion," Nelson said. "It helps them remember better than reading out of a textbook and taking a test."
Kissell said she uses the same principles in her math classes.
"First, you have to teach kids the basic fundamentals, then we cross over into real-world applications," Kissell said.
Social studies teacher Tammy Hurley said every teacher takes this active role in their class, going the extra mile to make sure students are learning.
Interactive learning is important to her, Hurley said, which in her room can include anything from mock newscasts of current events to writing raps about different countries.
The textbook is used more as a resource, Hurley said.
"Our greatest attribute is how much we care about our students and how much effort we put into our job," Hurley said.
Part of the school's hands-on approach incorporates new technologies, Meredith said. Students constantly use PowerPoint, Skype and Study Buddies, among others.
The school's team is more than teachers, Meredith added. Dean of students Tom Gates, counselor Mary Wood and disruptive student room monitor Rob Hensley are integral members as well.
"For a middle school to win this award is even more prestigious," Meredith said. "Across the board, test scores usually fall in these grades because there is so much going on in kids' lives."
Together, team members continue to improve the school. They stand together under the impressive blue flag.
"It is a very tough job, and you have to be a special personality to work here and have the success we've had," Meredith said.
- Reporter George Plaven may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.