Cleburne County Elementary was one of fifty schools in the state to receive an unexpected $20,000 last week, money allotted by the Alabama Legislature to recognize schools showing the most improvement in third-grade reading results.     

Cleburne County Elementary reading coach Leslie Coker said she was on social media last week checking out the various state education sites when she saw the alert. At first she could not believe it, she said, and she alerted Principal Barbara Johnson to check the school’s fax machine and there it was — an official fax from the Alabama Department of Education confirming the good news.

Johnson said word of the financial windfall felt great.

“I said ‘Whoopee’ when I heard the news,” Johnson said.

“I’m so proud of all my teachers here — not just the third grade teachers here — because it takes a village to raise a child,” she added.

Johnson said the money does come with some stipulations, but most likely will be used to bolster the reading program with materials.

Coker said State Superintendent Eric Mackey looked at growth of the reading program and not just year-end data to come up with schools which met the criteria.

Third-grade teacher Paula Shortt said a number of different strategies were used including training through the Alabama Reading Initiative, meetings and professional development.

Shortt praised Johnson as a guiding force in the reading program’s success.

“Ms. Johnson is definitely an instructional leader in our school and you have to have that — someone who is going to hold us accountable and set the tone,” Shortt said.

Fourth-grade teacher Rebecca Lee, who taught third grade last year, said collaboration has been the key to the success of the reading program. She said the staff gave all kinds of different strategies to help the kids learn when she was a new teacher last year.

Amber Jackson, another third-grade teacher, credits collaboration.

“It’s not just one thing that has caused the success. It’s all of us working together and doing whatever it takes to meet the needs of our kids, pulling from a variety of resources,” Jackson said.

Third-grade teacher Jeromy Owen credits data-driven instruction which pinpoints students’ weaknesses.

“We take tests that they do and we look at that test and look to see where they have failed ... and we use that to guide our instruction to get them where they need to be,” Owen said.

Randolph Park Elementary School in Anniston is another area school which received $20,000.

Johnson and all of the third-grade teachers from her school are going to Montgomery in September for the awards ceremony at the State Board of Education meeting. Governor Kay Ivey and Alabama legislators will be on hand to personally congratulate all 50 schools.