Westside Elementary stands out in Frayser

In a community where failing schools has been the headline, Westside Elementary attempts to rewrite the education story in Frayser.
When the 2016-2017 school year begins, Kimberly Adams will start her sixth year as principal at Frayser’s Westside Elementary School.
 
And while schools in the community have dealt with state takeover, Westside Elementary has held on, never in jeopardy of a takeover.
 
“It’s great kudos to the teachers and parents in our community,” Adams said. “I can’t put a whole lot of stats on my back. (The school) was already awesome. I just held on and maintained.”
 
Westside is a Reward School, and is the only non-optional school within a five-mile radius that is not in state takeover status. The school is considered one of the top 5 percent of schools in the state in terms of growth.
 
On Saturday, July 9, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Westside will host a block party to allow parents to register their children for the coming school year. Located at the front of the school, activities will include a game truck, face painting, music and giveaways.
 
Being a public school, Westside’s administration and teachers follow what is expected of Shelby County Schools.
 
“What makes Westside special is the fact I try to make sure I maintain a good core of quality teachers and make sure they have autonomy to teach children where they are, even though the curriculum says we need to move on,” Adams said. “I want teachers to say, ‘Hey, we need to do something here.’ We work collaboratively to make sure we’re on the same page. We build great relationships with children to make sure they’re at ease.”
 
All of Westside’s students live in Frayser’s 38127 ZIP code, with the majority close enough to walk to school.
 
Westside pays attention to data and state testing. Teachers are encouraged to look at the data to learn what high-performing schools across the state are doing and follow those trends. The hope is that while following protocol, Westside teachers stay cutting edge, Adams said.
 
“Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t,” she said. “We want to be well-informed of what the state is doing and making sure we’re open to those ideas. If a teacher can’t do it we bring in another to make sure that teacher can learn.”
 
There are about 350 children at Westside Elementary. Teachers work to build relationships with children. Students have opportunities to use computers after school and organizations such as choir and GLOW (Gracious Ladies of Westside).
 
While Westside Elementary has succeeded in staying out of the state’s crosshairs, there are plenty of challenges in Frayser. And for Westside Elementary students, the next step is to move on to the Achievement School District-run Westside Middle. But changing districts isn’t always easy and Adams said one issue is the transient nature of the community.
 
“They may start in our area, move and then come back,” she said. “If they come back they lose that whole year. Sometimes we take two steps forward and three steps back.”
 
The purpose of the block party is to retain current students while recruiting those who aren’t at Westside. Before this year, students who weren’t zoned in the immediate area of a school couldn’t register. But now students who don’t live in the immediate area of Westside can now enroll there.
 
“What we’re trying to do now is open the doors to the entire community, especially Frayser,” Adams said. “When a child is placed in an environment that’s a failing school for two or three years it’s hard for them to be on grade level when it comes to middle school. This is for parents to decide they want their child to get a quality education. … My population is very transient so we want to make sure even if you move away you can still bring your baby to Westside. Shelby County Schools has opened the doors to allow us to do that.”

Read more articles by Lance Wiedower.

Lance is a veteran journalist with more than 16 years of experience in newsrooms in the Memphis area as a reporter and editor, including most recently as managing editor of The Daily News. He regularly contributes to The Daily News, including a biweekly travel column, The Daily Traveler. 
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