Fifth-grade teacher, Ms. Emily Ramon, and Assistant Principal, Ms. Keisha Dawalt, both of Balfour Elementary School believe for many years the school’s narrative has been one of low performance and high poverty. “This simply isn’t true,” said Ms. Dawalt. “Our story – the Balfour Elementary story – is one of student success, hardworking and dedicated teachers, and committed and engaged families. We are at the top of our game and it’s important the community understand Balfour is a high-performing school in our district and across North Carolina.”
She’s right. Based on the recent accountability data release from the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction, Balfour has risen from the lowest performing school in the district to the second highest performing school in just six years. The data show Balfour Elementary School exceeded expected growth, meaning students grew more than what expected for one year’s worth of instructional time (180 days). The state defines the high end of expected growth as +2, but Balfour’s growth was +5.96.
“Our kids are the most hardworking kids around and our teachers are rock stars,” said Ramon. “We have teachers who are in the top 25 percent of all teachers in the state.” In 2018, the North Carolina General Assembly recognized teachers for student performance in the form of bonus incentives. Several teachers at Balfour Elementary School qualified for 14 bonuses equaling $28,000. Principal of Balfour Elementary School, Mr. Chris Tuft, said, “I’m extremely proud of our teachers. Regardless of the obstacles that come their way, they stay focused on our true mission – educating each one of our students.”
Both Ramon and Dawalt attribute Balfour’s success to involved families and high expectations in all areas. “We believe it’s of utmost importance to build trust and open lines of communication with our students and their families. We care about the whole child. In addition to teaching, we make sure our students have what they need emotionally and socially. When our families believe we have their child’s best interest at heart,” said Dawalt. “Then,” she says, “the high scores follow.”
Engaging families is not as easy as it sounds. “We understand not all our families work 8 a.m. – 5 p.m. So we look for ways to meet our families where they are,” said Dawalt. The school has come up with creative solutions to engage all families.
Classroom teachers use a number of means to communicate during the day. Families and teachers connect through an app called Class Dojo and by using Google Classroom. Ramon says these tools are great ways to carry on two-way communication with families whether it is to discuss homework or share pictures of students engaged with their peers. Ramon also says she uses Google Classroom to post timely assignments during inclement weather days to keep students engaged even when they are away from school.
The school has also restructured their Parent Teacher Organization (PTO). In years past, the PTO was led by a small group of three or fewer parents who met monthly and were responsible for hosting everything from fundraisers to the Spring Fling. Up until this year, PTO participation was low. This year however, the PTO is using a number of subcommittees to lead events throughout the school year. So far, PTO has already had 66 individuals sign up this year.
“We also understand many of our families may have had negative experiences in school,” said Ramon. “We work really hard to make all our families feel welcome and capable of helping their child. If they tell us they cannot read in English, but they can Spanish, we encourage them to read in Spanish. I have never met a parent who does not want their child to be successful. But sometimes they are a little intimidated, so they just need encouragement.”
Balfour recently hosted their first Family Game Night of the year. They invited families to come to the school to meet their child’s teacher, eat free pizza, and play games as a family. “We had over 600 people attend. Our families left feeling empowered, encouraged, and connected,” said Dawalt. Principal Tuft added, “There’s a lot of enthusiasm among our families, and that’s exciting. The partnerships that we’ve already formed this year will ultimately help our students achieve even more.”
Superintendent of Asheboro City Schools, Dr. Aaron Woody, says we are committed to three things. The first is creating safe and inviting learning spaces for all students; the second is to make sure our students are emotionally healthy, and third is to help our students become academically proficient. He says we are here to empower, inspire, and engage all students every single day. His vision for the district is already in place thanks to hard working students, talented and compassionate teachers, and engaged families at Balfour Elementary School.
“We are so grateful for our community partner, C4 Church. Their congregation takes such good care of our school community,” said Dawalt. “However, we want the Asheboro community to see with their own eyes the extraordinary work taking place within our building. We invite the community to tour our school and experience the passion and enthusiasm of our teachers and students, so that they may realize the actual story of Balfour Elementary School.”