SOUTH FORSYTH -- Not many schools nationwide can boast of having princes and princesses in their midst, but in Sharon Elementary’s CASTLE, anything is possible.
That was the message State School Superintendent Richard Woods received Monday morning at the media center at the school on Old Atlanta Road — the Collaborative and Social Technology Learning Environment, or CASTLE.
Woods’ visit and tour of the school honored the recently-named 2016 National Blue Ribbon School, which received its title in early November.
Sharon was one of 10 schools in Georgia this year and one of 329 nationwide to receive the distinction.
The National Blue Ribbon Schools Program, which was started in 1982 under President Ronald Reagan, “celebrates some of the most skilled and effective educators in the country.”
Public and private elementary, middle and high schools are eligible to receive the award and are recognized based on their overall academic excellence or their progress in closing achievement gaps among student subgroups.
Sharon, which recently received a College and Career Ready Performance Index, or CCRPI score, of 102.8, excels academically.
Forsyth County Schools Superintendent Jeff Bearden said he credits this to the school’s high level of communal and parental involvement.
“One thing this school does probably better than any school I’ve ever seen is parental involvement and engagement,” he said. “A lot of schools struggle with that, and this school has been very intentional in getting parents involved and parents engaged and you see the result of it. You will see parent volunteers all over the school, and that’s intentional too, because the staff and administration want them here and they help train them in how to help kids.”
Woods said this kind of involvement is necessary for school success.
“We’re looking at what’s called the ‘solution summit’ and we understand [communal involvement] is a part of what we’ve got to focus on in improving our lower performing schools,” he said. “We’ve got to have the community buy-in to improve some of these low-performing schools.”
Sharon’s principal, Amy Bartlett, said the school focuses on doing just that.
“Some [parents] can give time, which is wonderful, but some work in fields and we can utilize their experience and their expertise in that field,” she said. “We’ve got parents who work for all different technology companies. One dad’s a landscaper; you have to really tap into your resources, know your parent community, make the relationships, cultivate those relationships and then put that collectively together and the sky’s the limit.”
The inspiration for and creation of Sharon’s CASTLE and outdoor classroom, DIGS (Discover, Inspire, Grow, Succeed,) largely involved parents, Bartlett said.
The CASTLE offers a variety of multi-media resources, from books and tablets to interactive technological boards.
DIGS provides students with an outdoor environment to garden, study the natural sciences and create art and music.
It also helps the students develop a sense of responsibility for the school’s rooster and hens.
“That’s one thing [schools] have always struggled with,” said Woods. “Not just parental involvement, but community involvement. [Sharon] taps into [people’s] resources and strengths and their innovation, too. If they’re in, you’ve just expanded your capability and capacity at a school.”