GARY | Although 13 of 16 Gary schools have been graded D or F by the Indiana Department of Education, three elementary schools are shining stars.
Frankie McCullough Academy for Girls, Benjamin Banneker Achievement Center received an A. Glen Park has maintained a C grade for several years.
All three principals, McCullough's Pearl Prince, Banneker's Sarah Givens and Glen Park's Alicia Skinner-Kelley, attribute the success to their teaching staff.
Teachers say it's the principal and their respective styles of leadership that have made those schools flourish. They consistently review student grades and achievement, and work on remediation where needed.
McCullough teachers Antonia Escoveda, Yvonne Lucas, Karin Carey gathered in an office with Prince to talk about teamwork.
McCullough earned an A in 2010 and 2011. It dropped down to a C in 2012, then brought its grade back up to an A in 2013. Prince said the school had a lower grade in 2012 due to a drop-in attendance rate, not test scores.
Carey said Prince is supportive and teachers are constantly reviewing data.
Escoveda said from kindergarten through seventh grade, teachers review the key errors students make on the state-mandated ISTEP-Plus exam and make adjustments.
Lucas said when Prince first came to the school several years ago, she told teachers she was here to help.
"As long as we are willing to work hard, she is the first one in the trenches," Lucas said.
The teachers say students have "success time" where they focus on math and reading. Teachers also said they developed a reward system to improve attendance. They said parents are involved and there are monthly parent meetings and workshops for teachers and parents.
Givens, who has been Banneker principal for more than 20 years, said the school also has received an A or exemplary status for the same period of time. One year, the school received a five-star designation from the state and in 2011 was named a National Blue Ribbon School, a designation that lasts for five years.
Banneker is in its third year as a kindergarten through eighth building and serves 566 students. This year, it also houses a Geminus preschool program.
Givens rated parent involvement as excellent. She said parents are active in the building, in classrooms, for field trips and other activities.
"I believe the secret to our success is discipine," she said.
"I love my children, but they must have excellence and discipline every day. Children must be taught to do the right thing; I set the tone for high expectations as an administrator," Givens said. "Everyone knows what I expect -- the children, the parents, the teachers and the community. We are about academic excellence."
Skinner-Kelley, at Glen Park, said she and her teaching staff let data guide their instruction. In addition to her teaching staff, Kelley said three retired teachers come in and work with students on a reading plan.
"We have small-group reading every day," she said. "We also do a 90-minute block and all classes do that every day. The secret to our success in math is that we use the state's 8-STEP process."
The 8-STEP calls for teachers to instruct students on the material, assess, and analyze the data to plan instruction, deliver purposeful lessons, use frequent assessments and provide tutorial and enrichment time during the school day. If students still don't understand the lesson, teachers are to provide lessons to reinforce previously taught skills.
"Our staff works well together. We do things to try and make our children really love coming to school," Skinner-Kelley said.