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GARY — Frankie Woods McCullough Girls Academy in Gary is a shining star in the troubled Gary Community School Corp.

The elementary school houses 469 students in grades kindergarten through eighth grade. The school has earned an A from the Indiana Department of Education for three consecutive years.

The school's ISTEP-Plus scores have remained high with 100 percent of seventh-graders passing the science portion of the test; 92 percent of third-graders passed the IREAD exam; and 95.6 percent of third-graders passed the English/language arts portion of ISTEP. The attendance rate is 96 percent.

Over and over again, teachers credited the leadership of longtime Principal Pearl Prince and their collaboration. They said she thinks "outside the box" and because of that, the school is successful. 

Prince, in turn, credited the teachers. She said some teachers come in as early as 5:30 a.m. to start their day, while others often stay as late as 6 or 7 p.m.

Last summer, teachers voluntarily came to the school to review student data, go over state standards and develop what they lovingly call the "McCullough Rigor and Relevance Framework."

Every kindergartner in Antonia Escobedo-Krause's classroom can read. Some were working on two- and three-dimensional shapes, another group was reading while others were working on addition and subtraction.

In Gaisha Williams' first-grade classroom, students were learning about the base 10 system. She explained that our everyday number system is a Base-10 system and once students understand the system, they'll understand place value.

"I want them to visualize and understand 10, and they will build on that understanding at each grade level, and they'll eventually be able to compare whole numbers and decimals," she said.

Second-grade teacher Lenetha Patterson's students have been working on projects with their parents. Patterson said it does a couple of things — helps students develop an idea and increase parent involvement.

Natae Grant made a snack pack, which she attached to her belt, enabling her to eat Cheerios for a quick snack.

Sixth-grade teachers Yvonne Lucas and Gina Hannah have their students change classes, allowing them to get to know both teachers. Lucas focuses on English/language arts and science, while Hannah focuses on the other core subjects.

Hannah's students were working on an introduction to geometry project. The girls wandered around the room looking for round objects to measure and determine the circumference of a circle.

Collaboration, dedication are key

"Teachers work well together here," Hannah said. "We talk about what we want the girls to learn, and how we want them to behave. This school works because of Principal Pearl Prince and our ability to collaborate."

Two years ago, Frankie Woods McCullough won the Indiana Samsung competition based on a lesson plan and a two-minute video by Lucas and former teacher Kim Stivers. The teachers traveled to New York for the final competition, along with then-sixth-graders Courtney Blakely and Angel Wells. Overall, they won $80,000 in cash and prizes in the national competition.

In Room 118, there were 30 eighth-grade girls in white lab coats participating in STEM Scouts, building a pneumatic arm. Once built, the device had to be tested by moving it up and down, and verifying that it rotated about 70 degrees without getting caught on other parts of the structure.

The girls at McCullough and 20 boys at the Watson Boys Academy participate in STEM Scouts, a weekly science, technology, engineering and math program developed by the Boy Scouts of America and the Northern Indiana Chapter of The Links Inc.

Kellauna Mack, with Boy Scouts of America, said they are focusing on engineering projects for all students.

Blakely, a popular basketball player at McCullough, said she loves science and math.

"I want to be a professional basketball player, but I do have three backup plans," she said.

"I'd get into cosmetology, interior design or I'd be a math teacher. I like going to an all-girls school. There are no distractions, and there are so many opportunities here."

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Southlake County Reporter

Carmen is an award-winning journalist who has worked at The Times newspaper for 20 years. Before that she also had stints at The Clarion-Ledger in Jackson, Miss., The Post-Tribune and The News Dispatch in Michigan City.