Calcedeaver Elementary School

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Calcedeaver Elementary School
Mount Vernon, Ala.

Years ago, the principal of the then-low-performing Calcedeaver Elementary School found that only a handful of the school’s alumni had gone on to graduate from high school in the previous decade. School failure was too often the expectation of the area’s low-income community, which largely identifies as MOWA (Mobile and Washington County) Choctaw. Residents trace their ancestry to American Indians who, rather than join the “Trail of Tears” in the 1830s, agreed to stop speaking their language in public.

The principal and her staff began changing the school’s dismal statistics. They improved reading and math instruction, used data to identify students who needed extra help and launched a cultural education program to teach the Choctaw language and culture — all in a motley collection of buildings that range from a neat brick building to a decrepit portable trailer.

Today, through two principal changes, Calcedeaver has consistently produced among the highest reading and math proficiency rates in the state. In 2011, 94 percent of sixth-graders met state standards in reading. Indeed, 80 percent of them exceeded the standards, compared with 63 percent of their peers around the state. “Despite our conditions,” says Principal Susan Jill Dickinson, “we are truly dedicated to top-notch instruction and providing our children a loving and stimulating learning environment.”

And these days, nearly all Calcedeaver alumni earn a high school diploma.

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October 31 2011