Our Story: HPS climbs from 5 D's to 5 B's

Our Story: HPS climbs from 5 D's to 5 B's
Posted on 09/12/2018
admin leaders

From 5 D’s to 5 B’s—

Hickory Public Schools makes the grade!




In September, 2015, Dr. Robbie Adell arrived in Hickory as the new Superintendent of Hickory Public Schools. Within the first two weeks of his arrival, he received a phone call from the NC State Superintendent at the time, Dr. June Atkinson.

“I was excited to receive a personal call from Dr. Atkinson—as she congratulated me on my selection to the new position with HPS,” said Adell. “That was the ‘good news.’  Then came the ‘not-so-good’ news. 

“Dr. Atkinson shared that Hickory Public Schools was identified as a ‘low-performing district’ based on the test scores from the 2014-2015 school year.  The district had five (5) letter grades of a D.  My heart sank.  This was tough news to hear.  I knew the district would immediately require a new focus: to review, make adjustments, and re-energize.  A change would not happen overnight, but we were determined to make the transformation. The teachers, staff, students, families—we all had our work cut out for us.”

Now, just three years later, with the NC Department of Public Instruction releasing the 2017-2018 NC School Performance Grades on Wednesday, September 4, 2018, Hickory Public Schools has reason to celebrate!

“We have elevated our letter grades from five D’s to five B’s in just three years!” said Adell. “Hickory Public Schools is no longer a low-performing district!”

With the performance formula based on 80 percent proficiency and 20 percent growth, the turn-around challenge is not easy to conquer. “There’s no sugar-coating of our journey. It’s been a difficult challenge,” said Adell. “However, we have incredibly talented teachers and leaders within the HPS system and together, with the students, they all worked hard with a renewed sense of focus. After the first year, we grew from five ‘D’s’ to only two ‘D’s’ and pulled our system out of the low-performing designation.

“So what has been done differently to achieve this growth? HPS has a new focus on literacy.  We also worked hard to create pathways for students to help them graduate. We have seen tremendous results,” said Adell.

In fact, the increase in numbers with students graduating from high school has exceeded the district’s original forecast.  In 2015, the four-year co-hort graduation rate for HPS was 83.9 percent, with 84 percent for Hickory Career and Arts Magnet High (HCAM); and 85.7 percent for Hickory High. In just three years, the district’s 2018 graduation rate has climbed to a 90.6 percent, the highest in the history of Hickory Public Schools. HCAM received a 94.1 graduation rate and Hickory High received a 90.2 graduation rate.

“Across the district, at every level, we have personalized the instruction for our students which clearly contributes to new success and growth,” said Adell. “Building relationships with students is a priority while we work with more than 4,000 HPS students in helping them to reach their full potential.

“Some of the implemented initiatives (and rally of support) over the last three years include (but not limited to): the support of the HPS Board of Education; after-school and before-school assistance for many of our students; partnership with Inspired Learning; partnership with the faith-based community and businesses; the unveiling of the new HPS Book Bus (building a focus on literacy in several neighborhoods); the growth of each school’s Professional Learning Communities (PLCs) where teachers have real conversations about individual student needs; the implementation of Data Walls in every school (where each student is measured in their growth and faculty members can review the positive steps going forward); providing the faculty team with professional development and support; and of course, the conversion of Southwest Elementary to Southwest Primary (K-2) with a focus on literacy at an early age. The achievement of the Southwest students contributes to the growth at Longview Elementary—and this growth will follow students to the middle school level,” said Adell.

Three years ago, in 2015, Longview Elementary, Southwest Elementary, Viewmont Elementary, Grandview Middle, and HCAM—were all identified with a “D” for the school performance grades. For 2018, Longview Elementary, Southwest Primary, and HCAM—have jumped to a “B” for the school performance grade; and Viewmont Elementary and Grandview Middle have both jumped to a “C.”

“But all nine schools have reason to celebrate! This is a tremendous leap for our district in just three years,” said Adell. “The 2018 School Performance Grade for each of the schools is as follows:

  • Jenkins Elementary was a ‘C’ in 2015; and for 2018, the school earned a ‘B’ and met growth.

  • Longview Elementary was a ‘D’ in 2015; and for 2018, the school earned a ‘B’ and exceeded growth.

  • Oakwood Elementary was a ‘B’ in 2015; and for 2018 the school earned a ‘B’ in and exceeded growth.

  • Southwest Elementary/Primary was a ‘D’ in 2015; and for 2018, the school earned a ‘B’ (DPI does not measure growth at this level).

  • Viewmont Elementary was a ‘D’ in 2015; and for 2018, the school earned a ‘C’ and met growth.

  • Grandview Middle was a ‘D’ in 2015; and for 2018, the school earned a ‘C’ and met growth.

  • Northview Middle was a ‘C’ in 2015; and for 2018, the school earned a ‘C’ and met growth.

  • Hickory Career and Arts Magnet High (HCAM) was a ‘D’ in 2015; and for 2018, the school earned a ‘B’ and exceeded growth.

  • Hickory High was a ‘C’ in 2015; and for 2018, the school earned a ‘C’—only one point away from a ‘B.’ The school did not meet growth.

According to Rebecca Tuttle, principal of Hickory Career and Arts Magnet High (HCAM), one positive the school already had in place was the strength of relationships between the students and their teachers. “I knew we needed to shift our focus more strongly on the academics. Through our Professional Learning Communities (PLCs), teacher teams addressed the academic data on students and discussed how to meet their needs and develop growth. We had a clear structure in place to complete these tasks,” said Tuttle.

“We worked together in grade levels and established common practices for each of these grades for consistency and growth from freshmen through seniors. We incorporated writing components, daily math integration, and a consistent line of accountability for students while tracking our data walls for the individual student’s performance,” she said.

“We also brought on Diana Beasley as an instructional facilitator (former HHS biology teacher and NC Teacher of the Year) to assist in the content area of science; and we met to disaggregate data on students in English, Math and Science to determine needed adjustments based on the individual. We can achieve whatever we put or minds to—with hard work, collaboration, and accountability,” said Tuttle.

On the middle school level, Dr. Jennifer Griffin, principal at Grandview Middle, said the improvements in achievement are the result of hard work and a focus on relationship building with the students, consistency in practice, and examination of the school’s improvement processes.

“I am incredibly proud of the students and staff of Grandview Middle,” said Griffin. “Last year, we took a step back in terms of looking at our data and our school improvement process.  We zoned in on three specific areas of need.  We examined the structures in the school, the professional practices of teachers including focus on data and growth, and teaching and learning.  The steps we took along the way were all designed with the needs of the young adolescent in mind.  Consistency was also key. We want to make sure we are bringing our best each and every day.

“Being a low performing school is hard on morale.  That label takes a toll on the students and staff.  One of the most important aspects impacting our growth is the belief that we can improve.  The students at Grandview are incredibly talented and capable.  While we are very proud of the work from last year, we know there is much left to do. 

“The staff is dedicated and willing to work.  One of the most important things that we recognize in our school building is the growth of the confidence and efficacy of our students and staff,” said Griffin.  

And on the elementary level, Judy Jolly, principal of Longview Elementary, shared the good news of earning a “B” for the school performance grade is validation of the hard work performed by the Longview team of faculty, staff and students. “It’s actually very emotional for us—I am so proud of everyone for this great achievement,” said Jolly.

“The outstanding group of educators at Longview Elementary consistently delivers intentional, focused, personalized, data-driven instruction daily while maintaining high expectations for students and themselves.

“This achievement, climbing from a ‘D’ to a ‘B’ represents an exemplar of what a caring, highly qualified group of people can accomplish when teamed with a supportive community, parents, and students -- who are all willing to be challenged for the rise to ‘excellence,’” said Jolly.

“With the growth of the HPS school performance jumping from five ‘D’s’ to five ‘B’s’ in just three years, and students earning the highest graduation rate in the history of our district, we are on a journey of excellence like never before,” said Adell.

“Do we have more work to do? Absolutely. But I must applaud everyone who is affiliated with Hickory Public Schools for this remarkable achievement and growth since 2015,” he said. “Our teachers and staff are amazing; and our students are clearly ‘the comeback kids!’ It’s an exciting time to be a part of such an extraordinary public school district!”


Extra update: Longview Elementary ranked in the top five percent in NC for "growth" and HCAM ranked in the top 25 percent in NC for "growth." Well done!
Congrats to everyone!


L-R (Front row) Jeff Hodakowski, principal, Viewmont Elementary; Judy Jolly, principal, Longview Elementary; (middle row) Nala Sadler-Sherrill, principal, Northview Middle; Dr. Jennifer Griffin, principal, Grandview Middle; Rebecca Tuttle, principal, HCAM; Katherine Morningstar, principal, Hickory High; Terry Ashley, principal, Oakwood Elementary; Stephanie Dischiavi, principal, Southwest Primary; Dr. Calandra Davis, principal, Jenkins Elementary; (back row) Dr. Robbie Adell, HPS superintendent; and Dr. La’Ronda Whiteside, HPS assistant superintendent. (Photo/article by Beverly Snowden, HPS director of communications)

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