January 13, 2009
I have a Masters Degree in Education and taught for several years in a public middle school. My mother taught school for 31 years, and my sister is a teacher. Nowhere in the educational arena have I observed a finer school than Saint Joseph Catholic School in Athens, Georgia. For several years, my husband and I have felt and continue to feel -- very blessed to have our two children enrolled at SJS where our principal, faculty, staff, and parents work synergistically to create, promote, encourage, and maintain high expectations for students academic excellence, character development/social consciousness, emotional growth, physical growth, and religious formation. There are four points that I will underscore regarding this synergy. First, our prinicipal, Mr. Donovan Yarnall, provides stellar leadership at SJS by attracting, developing, and supporting a diverse group of first-rate teachers who share his vision of excellence. Mr. Yarnall continues to build on SJS s 50 year tradition of setting ambitious goals where stringent SACS and SAIS accreditation standards are not only achieved consistently but also are exceeded. Furthermore, we are the only school in the area who takes the ITBS and repeatedly scores in the nation s top quadrant. I notice in an earlier comment logged by another parent a little misunderstanding about this national ITBS benchmark. I think it s important to note here that the ITBS is a norm referenced test, not a criterion referenced test as is the case for such an assessment as the CRCT, which is administered in our local public schools. In other words, the ITBS compares a student s scores against the scores of same age/grade students who already have taken the same exam across the nation; the CRCT measures mastery of questions that are written according to specific predetermined criteria so the student, who knows what the standards are for passing, competes against him or herself while completing the test rather than competing against a larger target population. Therefore, comparing ITBS and CRCT scores not only is inappropriate but also is totally irrelevant. At SJS, we are extremely proud of our academic excellence in the national realm. Indeed, it s especially noteworthy that our scores are strong in spite of the fact that our students take the test in March, which typically is a couple months ahead of most other schools in our nation. More important than testing, Mr. Yarnall encourages all students to strive toward High Honor Roll (all A s) and challenges teachers to continue setting individual classroom standards high so that the students who reach this honor roll goal are cognizant of having made a significant achievement. Finally, Mr. Yarnall walks the talk. He occasionally steps into teachers classes to share in the lessons, which hones his acute insights about being in the trenches. He is highly visible and accessible for students and parents, always greeting the community at the front door, maintaining a revolving open door office policy, and initiating such new programs as the monthly Coffee and Conversations where dialogue is encouraged between the parents and principal. The second point that I d like to make regarding the synergistic excellence at SJS concerns our faculty. I mentioned earlier that our teachers uphold high standards for reaching honor roll. For them, upholding such a challenge is met easily, especially since our school has a faculty where 54% of the teacher s hold Masters Degrees or above. Plus, our teachers average 15 years of experience in the classroom. Our teachers clearly have the intelligence and experience to guide our children in a disciplined and respectful environment that is conducive to learning. I m aware, of course, that different teachers employ various teaching styles just as different students have various learning styles. This is true in both public and private schools. This does not mean that one style is right and the other is wrong; it simply means that they re different. People are unique, and personalities are as plentiful as the colors of the rainbow. Therefore, a child and/or parent might have a better relationship with one teacher than another from one year to the next. This, too, happens in both public and private schools. Perhaps this was the unfortunate case for the family who criticizes the school for their 2nd grade experience. Both of my children attended 2nd grade at SJS; although each child had a different second grade teacher, both children had very successful and enjoyable 2nd grade years. On the whole, then, I believe that our teachers are highly qualified, competent, and enthusiastic as well as nurturing, loving, and inspiring. Furthermore, not only are the basics strong in the primary classrooms, but students also are privileged to have extensive extracurricular instruction including Spanish, Technology, Art, Music, and Physical Education. My third point concerns parental involvement. As previously mentioned, parents are highly encouraged to participate in all aspects of the children s education. All parents are members of the Home and School Association, which provides many opportunities for parents and teachers to work together in both the educational and extracurricular aspects of student life. For example, parents can access student assignments by following links from the school website to their individual teacher s web page. Parents also might take a turn for lunch duty, man a booth at the school s Fall festival, or participate in any of the numerous other school fundraising activities. I especially am impressed by the large percentage of parents who attend school events. At our recent Christmas program, the church sanctuary was packed to standing room only! My husband and I have been very blessed by this warm parental community, where we ve made some wonderful lifelong friends who share similar core values. My fourth point concerns religious formation and character development. By definition, that s why my husband and I chose to send our children to SJS versus other non-religious schools in the area. We want our children to recognize Christ s sovereignty and divinity and to practice the Golden Rule. If you don t want your children to appreciate the basic tenets of Christianity, then SJS probably isn t the best fit for you. Previous comments in this forum have complained about greater emphasis on religious curriculum than academic. Most of those comments simply are unfounded. For instance, the children s Mass held at the church once a month is on Sunday morning, not during academic time. Every day during Lent and on Wednesday s throughout the school year, the rosary is said before school, not during academic hours. The Friday prayer session (Eucharistic Adoration) is after school hours, not during academic time. Furthermore, it is a voluntary church function, not a school function promoted during academic time. The only activity, which I m aware students have been pulled from class, is altar server training. That training is voluntary, not mandatory. Finally, Friday morning Masses are led in part by students. Not only do students learn about their core Christian values and study lifelong character guidelines, but they also learn about public speaking, organizing an event, and participating in a group project. Like the teacher who submitted an earlier opinion, my husband and I also feel proud, thankful, and blessed to have our children participating in a community where opportunities are offered to deepen their faith and strengthen their character traits. Thanks for letting me share my opinion with you. I hope that you will consider visiting SJS and passing along a good word about our community.
- submitted by a