Today was my very first visit to Carter G. Woodson Primary School. My special assistant Angela King Smith was once a student teacher at the school many years ago. On the ride there, she expressed reservations about what the school was like when she was there and her hopes that all of the new things she had heard were indeed true. I was pleasantly surprised, as was she, about the full transformation and transition of this school under the leadership of Dr. Susan Crim McClendon who is starting her fourth year as principal at Woodson.
When we pulled up, students were already outside working with the school’s counselor, Dr. Sonya Anderson, harvesting kale and pulling weeds in their “No Place for Hate” garden. Dr. McClendon and a few of her awesome students from Ms. Armstrong’s 1st grade class greeted me with tons of energy as we entered Woodson. They were energetic and read a beautiful card to me:
“Dr. Carstarphen, Thank you for visiting our school. I am so glad to have you here. Dr. McClendon is nice. Dr. McClendon is a good principal. You will be pleased. We are outstanding in Miss Armstrong’s class. She is very nice. Have a good time.”
All students in the school have access to mentoring support from Buckhead Church, which is only four miles away. Ms. Kara Barfield from the church, was on hand with one of the volunteers to ensure parents and visitors received information about these valuable mentoring resources. It is my understanding from the principal that only one family has turned down this support.
This school was full of color! Long gone were the days of dark halls that Angela remembered, instead I was able to see teacher presentations that were completed with grade-level data inspired by our recent State of Schools. They call it the State of the Grade, and each teacher works through their grade-level information so that they have comparative data from one year to the next. This allows them to zero in on their grade and school focus.
This year math is at the centerpiece of this analysis. With help from Georgia State University, the school is using research-based work from a science study to improve their instructional design for math. It’s called the Five E’s: Engage, Explore, Explain, Elaborate and Evaluate.
Further, the principal redesigned the master schedule for the school so that math is the first thing they teach in the morning followed by reading, science and social studies respectively. She explained that getting this right at the early grades will help the cluster as they focus on STEM for their area.
I saw other best practices throughout the school such as a math lab that is part of the student’s ‘specials’ classes and a pre-k class working specifically with autistic students. Teachers even participate in school climate support by wearing their khakis and white shirts each Monday to model proper dress code for the students. In teacher Tammy Cook’s room students were enjoying a hands on activity based on the book “Not a Box.” Exploring prior knowledge, Ms. Cook led a discussion around what boxes are used for normally and then challenged students to use their imagination to turn the box into an airplane, shoes or a house. The kids had some really creative ideas.
The newest addition to the building is its gym which is a great enhancement to the site. The gym is a stand-alone building on the rear side of the school. It is a super clean and safe environment. Additionally, thanks to a great relationship between the school and the Grove Park Recreation center students can use the field at the recreation center, giving Coach Hill a great extension for the gym.
On another interesting note, the mother of Coach Porter, a dedicated volunteer at the school, once served as the administrative assistant to Principal McClendon’s father when he was superintendent of Atlanta Public Schools.
Woodson Primary has great community support to enhance the fine arts, which is needed, because this is a school where music and art resources are shared with Grove Park Intermediate. I was delighted to see Ms. Lyla Womack and her friends who promote the Dare to Dream Ballet Project. She says, “We tell our children if they can see it, they can be it, but what if they’ve never seen it?” Therefore she is taking 1,000 inner city youth to the 2014 Urban Nutcracker Ballet with funds she has raised herself. We were able to talk through the status of her efforts while in the school’s gorgeous Target/Heart of America renovated library.
The before and after pictures of the library are just one small remaining visual of what things were like back when Angela was student teaching here, but today the library is beautiful with its sherbet, teal and lilac walls, complimented by lime green chairs, all so beautifully colored you could taste the room’s flavor just by looking at them.
Thank you Principal McClendon for your efforts to change the image, the culture and the performance of this fantastic school. I appreciate your dedication to our Woodson students and staff.
Fun Fact: Principal Crim-McClendon is the daughter of Dr. Alonzo A. Crim, Superintendent of Atlanta Public Schools from 1973 to 1988. Crim High School in southeast Atlanta is named in Dr. Crim’s memory.