August 14, 2008

School Volunteers Honor Upson for Its ‘Eye-Opener’ A The School Rose From a C This Year, Its First Top Mark on the FCAT.


When Ruth N. Upson Elementary School finally earned its first A on the FCAT this year, even community members without children enrolled in the Jacksonville school applauded like proud parents.

"It all starts in elementary school," said Jay Stuckey, event coordinator at Murray Hill Baptist Church, which "adopted" the school three years ago as a way to help the community. "This is where you can make the biggest changes the quickest."

The church and other local organizations honored Upson teachers on Tuesday afternoon with an appreciation luncheon, just one of many ways volunteers reach out to the school.

"Upson getting an A this year was a big eye-opener for all of us," said Gary Polletta, who helped host the event as president of the Edgewood Village Merchants Association.

The school's rise in ranks, despite budget cuts, inspired the community and contributed to business growth, said Polletta, who has two grandchildren attending Upson and serves on its advisory committee.

He presented Principal Margaret Kring with a plaque in recognition of the school's success.

Upson jumped from a C this year, earning its first top mark on Florida's Comprehensive Assessment Test since the grading system began in 1999. Kring credited the community for its role in fostering the school's success by providing volunteer mentors and helping hands on an as-needed basis.

A long-term goal is to assign at least one volunteer mentor to each homeroom, she said.

"It takes a real team effort to help children achieve," Kring said, adding that outreach is particularly important at a small neighborhood school like Upson.

The school has about 300 students, and the majority come from low- income families, she said.

City Councilman Michael Corrigan, who attended the luncheon, encouraged Upson to serve as a role model for other schools.

The church and other associations provide teachers with school supplies and buy some "wish list" items. They even hired two masseuses after the FCAT was administered last year so teachers could relax during their planning periods, said Stuckey, a teacher at Ed White High School.

A little appreciation goes a long way.

"The more a teacher feels loved by a community, the better she teaches," Upson first-grade teacher Lenora Cook said.

The church also will supply food, clothes and backpacks for struggling Upson families. It supports the Parent Teacher Association and plans to pitch in with the school's fall festival, Stuckey said. It's all part of an endeavor to nurture the Murray Hill neighborhood and form relationships between local groups, he said.

Polletta envisions teaming up with organizations in San Marco and Avondale to promote community support for schools elsewhere.

When one segment of a community does well, he said, it helps everyone.

"If we can bring Murray Hill together, it's a much better place to live," Polletta said. "Crime goes down, morale goes up."[email protected], (904) 359-4619

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