DTM: Norfork Elementary
“We are dedicated to teaching to excellence, and that excellence is going to be the state standards.”
—Barbara Nash, former literacy teacher
- Norfork, Arkansas
- Norfork School District
- Grades K-6
- DTM awarded in 2008
Recognized as a Dispelling the Myth school in 2008, Norfork Elementary has undergone several leadership changes but continues to outperform the state in academic achievement.
Norfork, Arkansas, in the Ozark Mountains just south of Missouri, is the type of school district where the superintendent drives a school bus and the high school principal sweeps the cafeteria after lunch. In this rural and isolated district, many residents never graduated from high school and very few went to college. Employment opportunities in the area are few and far between, which is reflected in the high poverty rate of the students — about 80 percent of students meet the qualifications for the federal free and reduced-price meal program, and many also qualify for a state food supplement program.
For that reason, faculty members at Arrie Goforth Elementary School (also known as Norfork Elementary) say they feel a deep responsibility both to introduce their students to the outside world and to prepare them for it by making them as academically accomplished as possible so that they have opportunities that are closed to their parents. “Coming from a poor family in the Ozarks,” third-grade teacher Betty Horton said, “we get in a rut and feel safe.” But, she added, “I tell my students that they need to compete. We try to encourage kids to stay in school and do well.”
Many of the faculty have taught at Arrie Goforth for many years, most of which time the school remained fairly undistinguished. As one teacher said, “We were a B school.” A few years ago, however, the school began ramping up its instruction in a number of ways, and its success climbed. In 2007, the Norfork school district, which consists of the kindergarten through sixth-grade elementary school and the seventh- through twelfth-grade high school, was named as the fourth top district in the state according to its test scores, beating out many much wealthier districts. The driver of the district’s success was the elementary school, which took on the challenge of getting all students to meet the state’s standards. It hasn’t quite gotten there, but one of the school’s triumphs of 2007, the year before it won the Dispelling the Myth Award, was that every single sixth-grader met state math standards.
The school was so successful in 2007, in fact, that the state department of education sent a monitor to watch the testing in 2008. “They could see — we’re not cheating,” gloated one teacher. Although math dipped very slightly in 2008 — 95 percent were proficient or above — the literacy scores of the sixth-graders tied with a few other schools to be third highest in the state.
Since then, the school has undergone several staff changes, including changes in the principalship. Stacey Bradbury, who arrived as a literacy teacher in 2008, became principal in the 2012-13 school year. The school has also been working for the last few years to incorporate the new Common Core State Standards, which were adopted by Arkansas. “We did the crosswalk between [the old] Arkansas state standards and Common Core,” said Bradbury. The new standards, she said, required some changes, including a greater emphasis on argumentation and evidence. “But it wasn’t a full revamping.”
Through all the changes, however, Arrie Goforth has continued to outperform the state. In 2013, more than 90 percent of sixth-graders met state reading and math standards — compared with only about three-quarters of students in the state. And 100 percent of third graders met state reading standards – 79 percent at an advanced level.
“We have such high expectations that we don’t think about how well our kids do,” said Bradbury.
- HOW It’s Being Done: Urgent Lessons from Unexpected Schools (Harvard Education Press, 2009) features Norfork Elementary.
- School website
- District website
- State report card
- Great Schools profile