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West Lincoln, Topeka-Tilton earn top level accreditation

West Lincoln and Topeka-Tilton attendance centers hold theprestigious honor of being the only schools in the area to havebeen awarded “superior” status by the state Department ofEducation.

The major educational milestone affecting West Lincoln andTopeka was overshadowed by the unfolding drama of Hurricane Katrinadevastating the Gulf Coast Aug. 29.

“The accreditation levels were released on September 1. Katrinahit on August 29. I am afraid that the recognition that theseprofessionals deserve was muted by the devastation of this storm,”said Angela Calcote, the former principal at Topeka-TiltonAttendance Center. She now serves the Lawrence County SchoolDistrict as its curriculum development director and coordinator offederal programs and district tests.

The schools were rated level five schools on the five-levelaccreditation schedule the state uses to assess educationalquality.

Topeka-Tilton earned the designation for the first time thisyear. It is the third consecutive year for West Lincoln to achievethe distinction.

West Lincoln Principal Jason Case said it was the unity of thefaculty and staff that enabled to school to repeat each year.

“We all work together to help us maintain this level and thisgoal,” he said. “Once you reach the top, it’s hard to stay on top.I just stress to my teachers to do their best.”

Calcote also credited the Topeka-Tilton staff for much of thesuccess.

“It is rare to have the caliber of staff that we have atTopeka-Tilton Attendance Center. The dedication and hard work hasreally paid off for the school and the district,” she said. “Thefaculty and staff have my full respect and appreciation for makingmy job so easy. I provided the tools they needed to create a level5 school and stood back and watched them work.”

Both educators said, however, that the level five designationwould be impossible to achieve without the additional support ofthe students, parents and community.

“Teachers can instill the importance of education and providethe necessary instruction, but unless (the students) hear itreinforced at home it doesn’t have any effect,” Case said.

Calcote agreed.

“The parents made sure their kids stayed on task,” she said.”They were very supportive of the teachers and what they expectedof the students. The school has always scored pretty high. Theexpectation (to excel) is already there among the students,teachers, parents and the community.”

Calcote, who became principal at the school in 1994, admitted itwas easier for smaller schools to obtain the exclusive level fiveranking than larger or more urban schools. Topeka-Tilton has 320students from kindergarten to 12th grade.

“You know the students better and have more time to spend withthem individually,” she explained. “We concentrate on the student’sstrengths and weaknesses. The fact that we already had small classsizes was a tremendous help.”

Calcote said the challenge is to remain on top.

“You’re still expected to have your (educational) growth,” shesaid. “When you’re at the top it’s hard to continue to show growth.But it’s a good problem to have.”

She expressed every confidence that new Principal Rusty Rutlandwould be up to the task.

Case, who took over as principal at West Lincoln five years ago,said the school’s approach to achieving educational success was notto focus on the scores and testing, but to focus on the needs ofthe student.

“Let everything else fall where it may,” he said. “We are tothink of ourselves as servants. If we think of teaching these kidsas serving those kids, I think a lot of attitudes would changeabout education.”

However, the test scores do play a role, he said. Each student’sMississippi Curriculum Test score is tracked and those numbers areavailable to teachers to review to determine where each studentneeds the most help.

Can West Lincoln and Topeka-Tilton repeat again next year?

“Let’s wait and see what the test scores say,” Case said with asmile.