ALBANY, Ga. -- The cake and vanilla ice cream went down easily for Westover Comprehensive High School's staff of about 80 teachers Monday afternoon in the school's recently renovated cafeteria.
The complimentary treats were in appreciation for Westover being the lone metro Albany high school to meet federally mandated Adequate Yearly Progress, which measures year-to-year academic achievement and is part the 2001 No Child Left Behind Act.
Only 136 high schools of 408 (33.3 percent) in Georgia made AYP after the state's graduation rate bar was raised 5 percent from last year to 80 percent, based on the official statewide first-round results released by the Georgia Department of Education last month. Last year, 55.8 percent of the state's high schools achieved AYP when the state's graduation rate bar was set at 75 percent.
Calhoun, Miller and Seminole county high schools, along with Baconton Community Charter School, were the other Southwest Georgia high schools to achieve AYP status. Baker, Ben Hill (Fitzgerald), Brooks, Colquitt, Cook, Crisp, Decatur, Dougherty's Albany, Dougherty and Monroe, Early, Grady, Irwin, Lee, Mitchell, Pelham city, Quitman, Randolph, Stewart, Sumter, Terrell, Thomas, Tift, Turner and Worth high schools didn't meet AYP.
This was the first time in six years that Lee County High has missed meeting the AYP standard in the first round. Second-round scores are the basis for the annual report card of how schools and school systems are improving and are scheduled to be released at the end of September. They will include retests for both Criterion-Referenced Competency Tests and Georgia High School Graduation Tests, error corrections, appeals and summer graduates.
"You are among an elite group," third-year Westover Principal William Chunn said to the gathered teachers after they had completed their first day of the 2010-11 school year. "You did a very fine job, and I'm proud of you. We've made it two years, and once we make it three years we'll be a school of distinction."
It won't be easy for Westover -- or any high school in the state -- to achieve AYP next year and thereafter. The graduation rate will increase by 5 percent for the next four years until it reaches 100 percent in 2014.
New Dougherty County School Superintendent Joshua Murfree also addressed Westover's teachers at the event.
"Let me congratulate you as well," he said. "This is what I want all our schools to do, and I want you to help them because we are a family."
Westover Coach Vanice Moore said making AYP for the second straight year was exciting.
"It's something we've always pushed for," she said. "I'm one of those teachers that was grown here. I've been here 15 years and have been teaching 22 years. I think every school should be pushing toward AYP -- schools of excellence."
Westover Science Department Chair Stacy Brunelle said the school's recent success with AYP stems from its level of expectations.
"Here at Westover, we have high expectations, and we won't settle for anything less from our students," said Brunelle, who has worked 15 years at the school.
Westover math teacher Gordon Presley was part of the school's 1971 class that was the first to go through each grade at the school. He said making AYP is no small feat.
"It's a challenge; it's tough," Presley said. "We've got a lot of good people, and we all work together. It's not so much a competitive level between the teachers, so if I have something I share it. We get together and have department meetings and start talking. If we have students in common, we might talk about what we do that works with that student specifically, and that gives us another way to go."