Last week, we learned that Smith Elementary has ranked as a Level 5 school. We featured principal Gailya Porter as "Jacksonian" a month ago in our education issue. Here's an encore of that story in honor of a remarkable school and community.
One day last spring, students at G. N. Smith Elementary were behaving rather suspiciously when principal Gailya Porter arrived. "They were acting like they were enjoying the day," she remembered later with a laugh, sitting with perfect posture in her small, but cheery office. The students were tickled because they were trying to keep a secret.
A counselor soon told Porter they had a disturbance in the auditorium, to come quick. She marched over sternly and opened the doors. "The look on my face had to change quickly," she said. Porter was being awarded the district's coveted Administrator of the Year award, and walking into an auditorium full of proud teachers and students there to help her celebrate. "It was an extraordinary day. It felt so good to see the children so engaged," she said.
Porter has labored to help Smith raise its test scores in the seven years she's been there. She is a native of Monticello, Miss., the same town current U.S. Education Secretary Rod Paige hails from: "My mother taught him," Porter said. She attended Jackson State, and later Southern University and the University of Wisconsin-Madison to study education. (Like Paige, also African-American, back then she had to leave the state to get a master's degree.) Porter toyed around with the idea of other professions, but knew she would follow her mother's lead. "Some people say it's a calling; I enjoy children, people. I'm more of a practitioner than a theorist," Porter said.
That's probably a good thing in today's public-education climate. Poor schools like Porter's—most students are on the reduced or free lunch program; many are raised by their grandparents—are facing extreme pressures to perform both from the state and under the intensified testing requirements of President Bush's No Child Left Behind act. In 2003, assessment went "live," so to speak. That is, schools deemed failing based on the tests can be shuttered in the fifth year under the current plan. "I can be dismissed and escorted out of the school," Porter said.
To avoid that fate, Porter is leading a community fight for Smith and to help the kids beat the odds that don't always stack in their favor. She helped Smith become a high-tech Connect school, where kids in kindergarten learn to keyboard. "PowerPoint would come in more with first-graders," she said, smiling. She hosted "Bring a Parent to School Day" so the kids could teach their parents what they were learning (like circle maps). Then, last year, Porter went whole hog to get parents into the school for a lesson on "No Child Left Behind": a spaghetti dinner, free babysitting, radio and TV ads, flyers, bus drivers calling parents. "It was a campaign," she said.
The campaign is, indeed, underway to save Smith and all JPS schools, led by quiet heroes like Gailya Porter. "Parents need to understand how important this year is to Smith, not just the school, but the Smith community," she said.
— Donna Ladd
The C-L's Eric Stringfellow honored Smith Elementary in his column today. Good for him; this school deserves all the kudos it can get. Cheers to Smith!
While I agree that Stringfellow did a good job in praising G. N. Smith, I was disturbed that he mentioned that there was a school nearby that didn't make the same sort of progress. I don't see why that was even included in this column. To me it certainly had no place there.
I work at that other school and am proud to be a part of it. Morrison's students this year are not the ones whose test scores put it in School Choice. They, of all people, don't deserve to have this brought up repeatedly.
So, consider writing about the ongoing efforts by the staff and students at Morrison to continue to show improvement; that's what's really been happening.
- Lynette Hanson