Bethel Elementary receives national honor

By Richard Ploch Special to The Mountaineer | Feb 28, 2013
Photo by: Donated photo DISTINGUISHED SCHOOL — Bethel Elementary School Principal Jill Barker speaks to students, faculty and parents during a Feb. 26 school celebration.

Bethel Elementary School on Old River Road has received a national award as a Title I Distinguished School, something never before achieved in Haywood County according to Public School Superintendent Dr. Anne Garrett.

“We have so many things at Bethel to be proud of – great leadership, exceptional teachers, community and parent support and most importantly outstanding students,” Garrett said at a Feb. 26 school celebration. “It is an honor and a privilege to recognize each of you today for your hard work and extra efforts. You have indeed achieved something that has never been accomplished in the Haywood County Schools.

“You received the National Title One Distinguished School Award for student achievement. This places our school among the best in the entire nation – not Haywood County not North Carolina but the nation.”

Also in attendance was North Carolina State Superintendent of Public Schools Dr. June Atkinson who told the packed audience of students, teachers, administrators, and parents that the award was given this year to only 67 of the more than 65,000 public elementary schools across the United States.

“Superintendent Garrett and Principal Barker, you and your teachers and students have much to be proud of today,” said Atkinson. “Congratulations on receiving this Title I Distinguished School Award and for all you have achieved together. You are setting an example that schools across North Carolina should follow. The teachers at Bethel like their kids and their community. It is an honor and a privilege to recognize each of you today for your hard work and extra efforts. You have indeed achieved something that has never been accomplished in the Haywood County Schools.”

All of the speakers gave special recognition to Barker and the teachers and staff of the school.

“We had the pleasure of hearing from Principal Barker at the State Board of Education meeting this month,” Atkinson continued. “After hearing such an inspirational presentation, I am even more grateful for the opportunity to come to see your school in person, to meet your wonderful teachers and students and to learn even more about what makes Bethel Elementary one of the nation’s top improving schools.”

In addition to State Superintendent Atkinson, Yvonne Perry, National Title I Distinguished Schools Coordinator also came from Raleigh.

“This school is wonderful,” she said. The competition (for the national honor) is very stiff.”

According to Barker, the percentage of students working at grade level has gone up every year and is now at 92.8 percent, a remarkable achievement. The median household income of Bethel families is $11,000 below the national average and only 7 percent of parents have post high school education. But, as Barker said, “This is a challenge, not an excuse. Bethel Elementary has embraced a culture of no excuses and leaves no room for mediocrity. It is our belief that a child with a great teacher for six years is a child with a solid educational foundation.”

The award recognizes exemplary schools that hold students to high standards and demonstrate exemplary school effectiveness in teaching, use of current research, establishing partnerships with parents, families, and communities, and additional criteria. The application process is lengthy.

“To our students,” Barker said, “we love each of you and are so proud of what you have accomplished. You have worked so hard and you will see the benefits of this hard work in your future.”

Each child at the school wrote an essay about why they like their school. One student representing each grade level was selected to read to the assembled crowd. “I love learning new things; I love my teachers; I love math; I love my friends; I love the playground; I love the principal. I love Bethel,” said first-grader Caleb Fields.

One student even thanked the custodial staff for keeping the school clean and healthy.

Barker closed with these words, “We know we have all really made a difference – parents, community members, teachers, staff, and of course the students in this room. So this truly is a celebration of many people and also a time to say thank you.”