By Nancy Schriner SEP 2014
Five minutes west of Gray, situated in rural Jones County, is Dames Ferry Elementary School (DFE.). A Title I School with 610 students in kindergarten through fifth grades, it is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Secondary Schools (SACS).
Clinton Burston, principal since 2010, holds Bachelor, Master, and Specialist degrees from Georgia College and State University. He served as Assistant Principal at Dames Ferry for five years, and Principal at the Jones County Ninth Grade Academy for four years before coming to his current position.
As part of the Jones County School System, which has adopted the mission statement SUCCESS FOR ALL through academic Achievement, responsible Behavior, and ethical Character, DFE faculty and staff strive to create an environment that encourages each child to attain his academic, social, and physical potential.
Being a Title I school, Dames Ferry serves a high population of at-risk children. With the number of free or reduced lunches at 43%, the challenge of teaching economically disadvantaged students is one that DFE meets head on. The school has made a concentrated effort to raise the test scores of all children.
In 2014, the school ranked better than 80% of all elementary schools in the state of Georgia, according to the Georgia Department of Education statistics, and the achievement gap between black/minority and white students is improving steadily. Over a three year period, the achievement gap has been closed from 12% to almost 9% in English/Language Arts, 9% to 6% in Math, and 12% to about 5% in Reading
Dames Ferry sets high expectations for its students while offering differentiated instruction fostering an intrinsic desire to learn. In addition to the regular faculty, DFE has four Early Intervention Program teachers, a Title I teacher, and three fine arts teachers. Creative ways are sought to engage students; teachers encourage collaborative learning; positive relationships are promoted school-wide; and diversity is celebrated.
In addition to the core curriculum, students may participate in extra-curricular activities such as chorus, cheerleading, math masters, literary competitions, math/quiz bowl competitions, gardening, and art. In order to further build responsibility, students may become class ambassadors and safety patrol officers.
“Quality education is a responsibility shared by students, staff, faculty, parents, and community;” comments Burston. “Every student deserves a safe, clean, caring, and respectful learning environment.” A very active Parent Teachers Organization (PTO) joins forces with the school to uphold this pledge. Through its hard work, DFE is provided with valuable resources and a loyal support system.
The Jones County Sheriff’s Department and the school also enjoy a collaborative relationship with the presence of two Resource Officers who, throughout the school day, are available in the school. They counsel students and teach classes on drug and alcohol prevention, as well as health and safety issues using the Choosing Healthy Activities and Methods Promoting Safety (C.H.A.M.P.S.) program.
The Jones County School District Special Education program for elementary students with autism is housed at Dames Ferry. Three classes make up the Autistic Program, which provides a continuum of services that range from self-contained classrooms to full inclusion. Burtston explains, “These students receive the most challenging academic education appropriate for their needs in their least restrictive environment.” He continues, “The unique nature of these classrooms also allows these students to receive direct instruction on communication and social skills that will allow them to be productive members of society.”
The Autism Program not only benefits those students who are autistic. On the contrary, the entire student population and the faculty and staff, who have received special training in creating and implementing special instruction, are more aware of the need to be empathetic advocates of these children. Creating well-informed friends of children with autism is helping to bridge their transition into successful adults.
Burston concludes, “Overwhelmingly, the strength of Dames Ferry Elementary School is the commitment to provide a safe, attractive environment where all students, regardless of race or academic ability, are instructed by the collaborative efforts of teachers who genuinely care for them. The stakeholders and community contribute to and fortify this attribute by showcasing confidence and pride in the goals and actions of the school.” Dames Ferry Elementary School believes it doesn’t get much better than that!#
545 Hwy. 18 West, Gray GA