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RHMS students, staff celebrate job well done

ELIZABETH TOWNSHIP — Madame Sophia sat with her crystal ball in front of her, answering questions Friday about the future.

One by one, Rock Hill Middle School students asked the “fortune teller” questions about their future and the soothsayer (humorously played by teacher Phyllis Pernestti in a long black wig) gave answers.

One thing about Pernestti’s crystal ball: Everyone’s future was bright. And why not? After all, the middle school had just succeeded in delivering its best state test scores ever and was rated — for the first time ever — as excellent. And that was the point of Friday’s day of play.

The Carnival of Excellence allowed kids out of class for an hour or two to savor a little fun and celebrate a job well done. Organized and operated by the teachers, kids got free snacks and played games.

“These tests aren’t easy,” teacher Kathy Gore explained. “I teach science and in science our scores went from the 40s to the 70s. That’s an enormous rise. I am so proud of these kids.”

Gore, Principal Mick Hairston, and fellow teacher Kathy Fraley credited dramatic changes made in both the curriculum and school day operations for the jump in test scores.

Last year the school went to block scheduling, which allows teachers 80 minutes a day for core subjects such as science, social studies and language arts. Teachers in each grade level were given the same planning period. They also began crisscrossing their course matter — teaching science along with language arts, for instance, thus reinforcing what was being taught in each class.

When the school report cards were released last month, the percentage of middle school kids scoring at or above the proficient level took a huge leap in most areas of the test.

Rock Hill eighth graders had posted gains of at least 10 percentage points in every area of the test. Seventh graders had posted a gain of approximately 20 points of the math portion of the test. Sixth graders posted a gain of 13 points in math.

Those students who had the highest test scores in the history of the school were probably not thinking Friday about how hard they worked last year, but they were certainly reaping the rewards of it.

Sixth graders Abbi Kline, Kyleigh Noel, McKenzie Clark and Hannah Merritt made their way among the tables of goodies and games, picking up a giant pixie stick one place and fake mustache at another.

They visited the duck pond, the table loaded with popcorn and oh yeah, Madame Sophia and her real- good-feel-good predictions for the future.

“I can’t tell you how proud I am of the students and the teachers,” Hairston said. “The teachers here are trying to build a culture of success and I think its working. I think we’re now seeing the results of it.”