Piney Chapel, Sugar Creek exceed state testing averages


Piney Chapel Elementary in Athens tested 55.84% proficient on English Language Arts scores with a population of just under 25% English language learner students. More than 70% of its students receive free and reduced lunches. 

The demographics of the whole school are 55% white, 29% Hispanic, 9% Black, and 7% unclassified. 

Principal Rebecca Dunnivant said part of their success comes from EL specialists who give intense remediation to English language learner students and also the students themselves encourage and help other students who are not fluent in English.

“Our kids are really great at supporting each other,” Dunnivant said. “We have some students who can speak English and Spanish fluently; it’s like a superpower.”

Dunnivant said the Limestone County school district has reduced the school's class sizes so they can give more attention to individual students.

“Fifteen students is an ideal class size,” Dunnivant said. "In the past, some grade levels have had more than 25 students in the classroom. Now my biggest class has 21 and every other class has between 13 and 15."

The average class size in the state is around 20 students, according to Sibley.

Dunnivant also attributes Piney Chapel students' success to teachers and intervention specialists.

“We have a schedule at our school that puts instruction first,” Dunnivant said. “We have an EL teacher and an EL instructional assistant helping with our EL students and we expose them to English as much as we can.”

Dunnivant said that reading remediation for all of Piney Chapel’s students is always a top priority and state-mandated programs keep it a priority.

“We have some great programs in place that start in kindergarten,” Dunnivant said. “These programs teach the foundations of reading, phonemic awareness, phonics, working on vocabulary, and fluency comprehension.”

There is also a state-mandated after-school program where students can receive tutoring.

Sugar Creek Elementary

At Sugar Creek Elementary, another Title I school in Limestone County, 54.04% of students tested proficient in English Language Arts. 

In her 16 years as an administrator, Principal Cleo Miller said that she noticed her students improving ever since the state implemented the teaching of the science of reading in 2019.

“The science of reading has made a huge difference in students becoming skilled readers,” Miller said. “If we implement the science of reading to fidelity because this is a whole different way of thinking about reading than what we were using 10 to 15 years ago.”

The science of reading is a body of research that teaches educators how to teach phonics instruction to their students, which is the decoding of letters into their own individual sounds.

The demographics of Sugar Creek Elementary are 82.9% white, 15.09% Hispanic, 8.83% American Indian/Alaska Native, 4.65% two or more races, 3.21% Black, and 0.16% Asian and Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander. Fifty-nine percent of those students receive free and reduced lunches and 13% are English language learners.

Miller credits all state-mandated programs as beneficial to her students becoming proficient in English Language Arts.

“The science of reading, the after-school tutoring program, the summer reading program, and the parent engagement piece have been some of the things that I think have really helped,” Miller said.

With the Literacy Act, the state mandated both family engagement and after-school programs for all public schools in the state.


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