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'Banner' recognition given to Sumter's Hillcrest Middle School

District administrators offer surprise ‘thank you’ for earning state award

BY BRUCE MILLS
bruce@theitem.com
Posted 10/19/19

DALZELL - It's common for schools to surprise students with recognition for their success and achievements, but Sumter School District administrators took that to another level using that exact same approach with teachers and faculty at Hillcrest …

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'Banner' recognition given to Sumter's Hillcrest Middle School

District administrators offer surprise ‘thank you’ for earning state award

Posted

DALZELL - It's common for schools to surprise students with recognition for their success and achievements, but Sumter School District administrators took that to another level using that exact same approach with teachers and faculty at Hillcrest Middle School on Wednesday afternoon.

Earlier this month, the public school "on the hill" here in Sumter County was recognized as a Palmetto Silver Award winner for its report card ratings performance last school year. Only about 20% of schools in the state received either a Palmetto Gold or Silver award, and Hillcrest was the lone school in the district to be recognized.

For that achievement and now with the official state Palmetto Silver banner in hand, Superintendent Penelope Martin-Knox and Chief of Schools Brenda Hafner decided to surprise Hillcrest Principal Tarsha Staggers and her staff of about 30 during a regular, after-school, faculty meeting in the school's media center.

In the midst of curriculum departmental updates, Staggers recognized Martin-Knox to speak, and she shared her purpose for the surprise occasion.

The superintendent said she appreciated the faculty and staff for what they do every day and the byproduct is engaged and happy children who are successful in academics.

The surprise "thank you" event for hard work and dedication was received by Hillcrest faculty and staff with loud cheers and applause.

After posing outside for a few pictures and then wrapping up the faculty meeting, a few teachers shared what has made the school successful through the years. Both last school year and the prior year, Hillcrest received "excellent" overall ratings on the school report cards from the state Department of Education. These represent the first school report cards issued by the state since about 2014.

A key factor helping Hillcrest's "excellent" overall ratings in back-to-back years has been "excellent" ratings in the indicator of academic "student progress." That measures if a school on average grew more or less than the state average, based on the state's grade-level tests in English/language arts, math, science and social studies.

Sixth-grade science teacher Richard Phillips said teachers across all content areas are consistent in their approach with best practices that work with students.

Instructional coach Gayle Wilson added that data analysis and goal setting for students are taken seriously across the three grades at the school.

Teachers' goals are "well-rounded students," and camaraderie is also important to faculty and staff, she said.

"I think we're a family here," Wilson said. "We work hard to have good relationships with one another. We meet weekly and actually discuss concerns we have and share strategies that we could use in our classroom to help students do better. We also talk about some things that might be uncomfortable, where someone could be lacking in an area and how we can support them and build them up."

Staggers said the surprise "thank you" event and the state award are a great feeling for everyone associated with the school. Following Wednesday's recognition for teachers, the school had a celebration on Friday night for students and parents.

"Without all of them, none of this would be possible," Staggers said.

Phillips, who is also a Science, Technology, Engineering and Math teacher, added the recognition from the district is similar to what teachers at the school do with students.

"The recognition today feels very good, and it models what we do with our students," Phillips said. "It's the same thing that we do with the students: When they have successes, we celebrate their successes. So, it's good to see it happen from the top down. It confirms what we are doing as teachers, and that's the true form of education when you model for the students."