W.S. Harlan honored as one of state’s top schools

Published 11:09 pm Thursday, May 7, 2009

A few months ago educators wondered what made W.S. Harlan one of 10 standouts in rural education.

On Wednesday, they got their answer after hearing the results of a recent study by The Center for Rural Alabama, which evaluated each of those 10 schools and communities to determine similarities in the education process of schools in lagging economic areas. WSH joins schools in Choctaw, Cleburne, Escambia, Franklin, Jackson, Mobile, Monroe, Wilcox and Perry counties in the study.

What they found was motivated teachers, motivated principals and eager students, said CRA director Larry Lee.

“A year ago we began looking at numbers and realized there is a significant difference between reading and math test score those students who receive free and reduced lunches and those who did not,” he said. “We thought that was very interesting, especially when presently 62 percent of all students in rural schools are on free lunches. Those students historically do not perform as well, so you have to ask yourself, how are we going to produce a qualified work force, business leaders, the mayor – whoever?”

Lee said data compiled during visits and interviews in the schools and communities uncovered similarities in each of the 10 schools.

“Those 10 schools were very diverse,” he said. “What we discovered was that 58 percent of those teachers and nine out of 10 principals all use the same leadership style which stresses relationship building. These schools have created a culture of expectations. They have motivated teachers and principals who utilize a ‘thinking versus feeling’ methodology. They have expectations of their students, which is key.”

Lee said he hopes the 40-page report outlining the results of the study will offer insight to other schools around the state.

“These schools — they’re 10 examples of what is possible,” he said. “They are prime examples of how to produce a great education.”

Superintendent Sharon Dye credited the school’s honor to Harlan principal Brent Zessin and its staff.

“A project like this requires the support of many people,” Dye said. “One of the messages that came through loud and clear is that the 10 schools that participated in the study were excellent schools with excellent leadership and staff with community support.

“The Covington County Board of Education already knew that W.S. Harlan Elementary was an exemplary school and now people all over Alabama are aware students at W.S. Harlan are getting the best education possible. I am extremely proud that W.S. Harlan Elementary has received this recognition that they are so deserving of.”