Community Outreach at Potter Elementary School

Renay OKeke, center, is ready for battle as Potter Elementary School enters high-stakes testing season. Also shown are employees Brittany Randall and Shanica Lowe.
Renay OKeke, center, is ready for battle as Potter Elementary School enters high-stakes testing season. Also shown are employees Brittany Randall and Shanica Lowe.
Published January 12
Updated January 12

Saturday academies begin on Feb. 3 at Potter Elementary, one of seven Hillsborough schools that are under pressure from the state to raise their report card grades this year.

“Our goal is to have 100 percent of our students proficient in reading and math,” principal Melanie Hill told 40 community representatives at an open house Friday morning.
She quickly acknowledged it won’t happen overnight.
Potter is seeking to end a five-year string of F grades. If it doesn’t get at least a C, the state has ordered the district to choose among four intervention scenarios. Hillsborough chose the least invasive for Potter and the other schools: Hiring a consultant to help run the school.
Hill said she is confident the school will achieve at least a C after the spring’s standardized tests.
Friday’s breakfast event, which began with a drumline serenade and included small group tours of Potter’s classes, was an effort to showcase progress the school has made since the chaotic days of 2016, when teacher turnover was rapid and student behavior was sometimes described as out of control.
Since then, Potter has become far more stable, thanks in part to an outpouring of assistance from churches and community organizations. The percentage of brand new teachers is much lower. They are staying on the job much longer.
Already, Hill said, the effects are apparent in the classroom. Students stay on task during their lessons.
And behavior has improved. Hill shared these statistics with the group: Since the start of the school year, there have been 110 classroom “behavior tracker” incidents, 135 school referrals and 25 out of school suspensions. But that’s down from 190, 194 and 61 during the same time period last year.
“It’s not where we want to be, we want to be better, but you can see it is a decline,” she said.
Strategies include morning meetings where children get a chance to open up to their teachers about life events before instruction begins; and mentor relationships between school employees and individual students. Even Hill mentors a student.
The school now calls itself “Potter Leadership Academy,” and the students all had the word “Leader” on the back of their spirit shirts.
“Kids are saying, ‘Be proactive’ in kindergarten,” Hill said.
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