Sixth-graders’ move among Anson County Schools’ changes for new year

By: By Natalie Davis -

The Anson County Board of Education has made several changes on the elementary, middle and high school levels for the 2017-2018 school year.

“One of our newest projects this year is we have a Golden Leaf Grant that we received to start a new program for students that’s in Anson County, attending Anson Middle School in grades sixth, seventh and eighth,” said Superintendent Michael Freeman.

“In this program, they have the opportunity to participate in the regular instructional classes that they would always take, like the English, math, social studies, sciences, and so forth. In addition to that, we have tapped into an emphasis what’s known as STEM.”

STEM stands for science, technology, engineering and math. With the STEM initiative being funded through the Golden Leaf organization, AMS is getting teachers trained with special resources known as Project Lead the Way.

“This project has a great emphasis on STEM curriculum areas,” Freeman said. “This is being done to strengthen the rigor, and the level of education occurring at the middle school level.”

It also works as a prerequisite for students as they complete the eighth grade, and apply to go to one of the high school programs.

“We’re trying to give them the best background that we can from kindergarten through eighth grade, hoping to build the foundation for very extreme success on the high school level,” Freeman said.

He also said that this one of the things that the school board is most satisfied about. The school board has also made another historic change in the school system.

“We’ve gotten very good feedback from the parents and the sixth-graders so far, because this is the first year in the history of Anson County that our middle school has had sixth-graders,” Freeman said. “We gave families a chance to have input in this, so we have all of our sixth-graders from Morven, Wadesboro, and Lilesville Elementary.”

AMS also has a portion of students from Ansonville, Peachland-Polkton and Burnsville Elementary as well. Freeman said that he anticipates 100 percent of the County’s sixth-graders being on the middle school campus next August, especially given that this year started so well.

“We are reaching out to the sixth-graders at Ansonville, Peachland-Polkton and Burnsville, in order to make sure they have support from some instructional coaches that we have at the middle school, to ensure that they get opportunities that are as equivalent as possible to the sixth-graders on the AMS campus,” Freeman said.

“There are a few differences because of the grant dollars that we had, but there are many ways that we can extend opportunities for those sixth-graders that chose to stay at the elementary level.”

Freeman said that the school system is very bittersweet that at Anson High School, students have transitioned into year four of the Youth Career Connect STEM Academy.

“We are about to wrap up using the federal funds that we have gotten for that grant a little over three years ago; it was a four-year grant,” Freeman said. “We are working on how we are going to sustain this initiative for many classes of students in the future to use.”

Freeman said that they partnered with several businesses in the community, such as South Piedmont Community College. SPCC is also one of the partners for the middle school STEM program.

“In June 2018, we will graduate, through AHS, our first class of students from the Youth Career Connect STEM program,” Freeman said. “Many of these students will graduate earning multiple college-level credits through SPCC, certifications in areas, through both SPCC and Microsoft.”

Freeman said that there could be students in the county’s traditional high school who also receive credentials such as these, based on how they accelerated their learning. He also said that the program kind of goes hand-in-hand with the Anson County Early College.

“We are anticipating another fabulous year there,” Freeman said. “We have the largest enrollment at ACEC that we have had since it opened and in that program, our students have the opportunity to earn an Associate degree, as well as high school diploma, over a period of five years.”

Freeman said that if students are able to reach that goal, they will earn a high school diploma, a degree, and/or certifications in areas like, welding, nursing, or other pathways they may get involved in.

The school board has also expanded the Anson Academy program. Last year, they placed some eighth-graders on the campus with high schoolers. Anson Academy is the smallest high school program in the county.

“Historically, it was designed to help a child who had displayed at-risk needs, however, we allow students to self-select to go there, too,” Freeman said. “There are many students who want to go there because of the small setting, the opportunity to do online courses or credit recovery through a program that helps them get back on track with earning their diploma in a timely fashion.”

Freeman said that the school board has tried to rebrand that program, and people can no longer assume that every child who is there has been told that they have no choice.

“Many of the children there, are there because they want to go,” Freeman said. “Also, there are students that may have went due to a challenging situation, but when they had the opportunity to go back to one of the other high schools, they chose to stay at the Academy.”

After the pilot of this new change and its success, the school board now offers the program at the Academy for eigth- through 12th-graders. Freeman said that they may expand to seventh grade at some point in time, depending on the needs of the students.

At the elementary level, Freeman said they have a couple years of experience with resources that Howard McLean, assistant superintendent, was able to bring in. These resources support reading and math instruction, and the expansion of science lab opportunities.

Freeman said that one of the teachers from Ansonville Elementary has brought back a lot of resources for this school this year, which led himself and McLean to participate in another grant from North Carolina State University. This new project is designated to Ansonville Elementary.

“That’s going to bring even more science activities, and our desire with that model is to have Mr. Jones become equipped to help us train science teachers in other elementary schools, to build the type of science program that he has put together there,” Freeman said. “That goes hand-in-hand with our Science Center, which has reopened.”

There were also a couple of staff changes for the new school year. Wadesboro Primary School has a new principal, Fred Davis. Chuck Coaker is the assistant principal.

Danielle Blunt became interim principal at AMS. Josh McLaurin was transferred from AMS to Lilesville Elementary, after the retirement of former principal, Marissa Philips

Freeman said that the school board hopes to continue an upward trend with academic growth for the students.

“McLean is leading the work, and our school improvement teams are visiting their annual planning tables known as the School Improvement Plan, as well as curriculum district annual planning table, and we are trying to make sure that were giving our students every advantage available to us in Anson County to ensure that learning will occur,” Freeman said. “Some may change and some may not, but they are revisited annually. They guide the school programs at each level.”

Freeman said that they are excited about the test data from last school year. In the majority of the cases, the scores have had upward trends, but they don’t have some of the schools at the grade that they would like.

“Every school, with the exception of one in ACS, showed significant growth,” Freeman said. “We are very excited about that.”

He also said that the Anson County school system is at a stage where it has been shown that growth is achievable, but they will not stop just yet.

“We can’t just accept where we are at,” Freeman said. “We have to figure out strategies and ways to take this growth to higher levels.”

Freeman said that ACS had some comments recently from some people who have monitored their growth for a number of years, and the people indicated that it is some of the best growth that they’ve ever seen.

“Why not in Anson County?” Freeman said. “If this can happen in other places in the country, it can happen here too, because our children can be put up against children anywhere in the nation.”

Reach Natalie Davis at 704-994-5471.

By Natalie Davis