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Senate leader praises Joseph Martin for test scores

POSTED: December 20, 2008 5:00 a.m.
Photo by Lauren Hunsberger/

Joseph Martin teachers listen during a meeting with state Sen. Tommie Williams Wednesday.

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State Sen. Tommie Williams, R-Ga., visited Hinesville's Joseph Martin Elementary on Wednesday and spoke with teachers and staff, delivering mostly good news, and a touch of bad.
 Williams began with the good news when he announced the Governor’s Office of Student Achievement, in partnership with the Georgia Department of Education awarded JME the highest honor for academic improvement — the Platinum Greatest Gain Award.
“Greatest Gain means they showed great improvement in scores for the criterion reference competence test (CRCT),” DOE spokesman Dana Tofig said. “It means they’re making tremendous progress and leading the way in test results. But really, where they’re making gains is in the classrooms. They’re doing a great job teaching their students.”
Tofig said there is other criteria for receiving the award, which was only given to 26 state elementary schools and 18 middle schools. Other requirements include making AYP for three consecutive years or more and ranking in the gain category's top 2 percent in statewide test score results.
Principal Sue Tolley gave a lot of the credit to her staff and was quick to offer praise.
“To make an improvement like this, you are fantastic. We weren’t in the bronze; we weren’t in the silver, or the gold. We are a platinum school. You are fantastic!” Tolley said. “This is a very prestigious award for us. We’re always trying to improve our test scores, so to actually have a 5 percent gain, it’s really tremendous.”
As a token of appreciation for all its hard work, Tolley gave her staff "jeans days" for the rest of December, a privilege she admits she is stingy with on a regular basis. Williams, however, made sure Tolley, too, received her due credit.
“I know your principal has got to have some tremendous qualities because folks don’t work this hard to make these kinds of results unless you have a good leader,” Williams said.
Superintendent Judy Scherer was among the representatives from the Liberty County Board of Education in attendance. She said she's also proud of the school, but that the news came as no surprise as JME has been known to strive for distinction.
“Excellence is not a skill, it’s an attitude, and that truly shows in your attitude here at Joseph Martin as you always strive for excellence. Everything about this building speaks of student achievement,” Scherer said. “The commitment to excellence is there every day. I know it took a lot hard work and effort.”
The other reason Williams visited the school was to comment on recent concerns regarding budget issues. During this portion of the discussion, Williams delivered more good news as he quelled fears and rumors salary cuts may be in store for teachers across the state.
“Teachers are above the national average in Georgia, so we’re happy about that,” Williams said. “And I know there’s some talk about cutting teacher’s salaries, but that would be the last piece of legislature that would pass through, or that we would be willing to put on the table when it comes to budget cuts.”
Williams also had some bad news about teacher retirement plans and other benefits subject to cuts. He said retirement funds are dwindling due to the unstable stock market.
 “Your teacher retirement fund has lost some $50 billion to $41 billion in the past six months,” Williams said. “The fact of the matter is, if the market goes further down, you’re funds will be in trouble. We just can’t continue to lose. Quite frankly, if it goes further down, the state, the county and you will have to pay more to rectify it.
“Hopefully, the market turns around,” he said. “But if the economy gets worse, and it might get worse, we might to have to cut furloughs at the end of the year.”
Williams, who said budget problems are statewide, was quick to reiterate education is not being unfairly targeted. He said revenue is low across the board and therefore, cuts have to be made somewhere.
“We’re trying, and as the governor said, we don’t want to cut K-12,” said Williams, who closed his speech by thanking the teachers for their hard work and again congratulating them.
“You take on the lives of children,” Williams said. “You’re filling in the gaps. I appreciate all the work you are doing.”
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