Dawes Intermediate School has set itself apart by finding a way to mitigate a lack of federal Title 1 funds through grant funding and has come out as one of the top-performing schools in both the Mobile County Public School System and the state.
The 2015 Title 1 funding level for MCPSS is $22,103,965 — a number that has come down from recent years that saw as much as $26 million of federal funding being allocated in the county.
Dawes is one of the youngest schools in the system, and was created as a direct result of the growth in population seen in West Mobile during the last decade.
That population growth led to an increase in student enrollment at Hutchens Elementary School to the tune of almost 30 portable classrooms being used to house students.
To alleviate that overcrowding, a $12 million bond was issued to pay for the construction of Dawes, which was built to support 700 students in grades 3-5.
The doors opened in 2010, and as of today, Hutchins and Dawes are the only two of Mobile County’s 89 schools that receive no Title 1 funding.
Principal Michele McClung was selected as the school’s first principal after serving as an assistant principal at Hutchens and E.R. Dickson Elementary School.
“When I was asked about staffing the school I had the option to staff the school from scratch, but that would have meant half of the teachers at Hutchens being mandatorily transferred,” McClung said. “I happily agreed to take those teachers because I had already worked with most of them.”
Today, 32 teachers instruct 510 students at the school, which is a part of the Baker High School feeder pattern.
Dawes has one of the most active Parent Teacher Associations in the state, with at least one parent active in the organization for each of the 510 students.
“We have a very supportive community that’s very proud of their school,” McClung said. “It’s important we keep that communication and positive relationship so they continue to support us.”
The school has performed well, and according to McClung, has seen consistent improvements in every subject since the school opened.
Dawes has also received the Superintendent’s Award the last two years for its scores in reading and mathematics.
Notably, it’s the only “School of Excellence” in the state Alabama, a classification that includes competition from elementary schools, high schools and post secondary institutions.
McClung said classroom engagement is a key part of how the student’s at Dawes learn, and keeping students engaged can be difficult without the additional federal funding.
Title 1 funding is made available to schools where at least half the student body is considered low income. McClung said enough of her students could qualify for funding, but many parents have chosen not to apply.
“Some schools in the county receive up to $800,000 to $900,000 a year in federal funding,” she said. “All of the funds we get are state units for teachers.”
Dawes doesn’t currently use any local funding for its teaching units, though McClung did say she plans to use at least one local unit to fund an additional special education teacher next year.
Despite that lack of funding, in the last four years Dawes has added a 1/8-mile track and a $250,000 outdoor learning center complete with Internet access, 50 student gardens and an amphitheater.
“I write grants on nights and weekends for these projects and to help provide technology in the classroom,” McClung said. “My PTA parents help with writing some of the grants as well.”
Unlike most schools, each classroom at Dawes is outfitted with web cameras, iPads, Kindles, Smart Boards and remote controlled units students can use from their desks.
McClung was ranked in the top 99 percent of school principals in the nation through Vanderbilt University’s Assessment of Leadership in Education program.
The assessment surveyed teachers, administrators and McClung herself on 72 effective leadership behaviors.
Laurie Price, a teacher at Dawes, said the school’s success was a direct result of McClung’s leadership.
“There is a concrete plan,” she said. “There’s a step-by-step process. Everyone knows where they stand and what’s expected.”
Price said all of the teachers work with McClung to outline a mission statement and set goals for the school each year.
One big of goals shared at Dawes is to win a Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award for Education, an award offered through the National Institute of Standards and Technology since 1987.
McClung said setting big goals starts from the top and works all the way down to students.
“We’re going to have the highest test scores if my parents and teachers want them,” she said. “If we don’t get them, we’re going to keep trying until we do. That’s just who we are here.”
For more information about the programs at Dawes, visit the school’s website dawes3-5.mce.schoolinsites.com.