published Monday, June 4th, 2012

Normal Park, Jill Levine receive national magnet school honors

  • photo
    Principal Jill Levine takes notes as she observes a teacher in class in this file photo from Normal Park Lower School.
    Photo by Angela Lewis.
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Nomination letter
Nomination letter

The awards keep piling up for Jill Levine and the school she helped create.

Since 2005, Normal Park Museum Magnet has received honors from Magnet Schools of America, a national advocacy group. This year, the group chose Normal Park as a School of Excellence for its academic standards, curriculum innovation and teaching staff, among other criteria.

And this spring Levine, principal since the school opened about a decade ago, was named the national Magnet School Principal of the Year.

"I think this has been a long time coming that she is recognized nationally as a top principal," said Normal Park parent Kristina Montague, who also taught at the school for one year.

The zoned magnet school's success is largely credited to parent and community support and involvement. But Montague said the principal's emphasis on instruction and teacher quality also helps set Normal Park apart.

Teachers host monthly miniworkshops to share teaching techniques with colleagues. And faculty participate in a weeklong summer institute that helps to build relationships and teamwork. While the expectations are high and the work is intense, Montague said it's rewarding for those who choose that environment.

"If you are interested in personally growing and developing your teaching skills, interested in new ideas on how to motivate students and interested in new concepts, then it's a fantastic place to work," she said.

A graduate of Teach for America, Levine taught in inner-city New Orleans for five years before coming to Chattanooga. With few books or teaching materials, Levine said, she had to be creative in finding ways to motivate students in the Big Easy.

"I found when kids were getting their hands dirty, painting, writing autobiographies, they got engaged and excited about learning," she said.

Levine said she has implemented similar strategies of active, engaged teaching and learning at Normal Park. Day-to-day lessons are infused with hands-on activities. And the school's museum magnet model takes student learning to the community through trips and projects.

The strategies appear to be working, as Normal Park continues to perform at the top of Hamilton County Schools.

Normal Park was among 18 Tennessee schools recognized by the Education Consumers Foundation for making student achievement gains across the entire student body. Normal Park was the only school in the county to receive all A's on achievement and value-added on the 2011 Tennessee Report Card.

Karla Riddle, who oversees Hamilton County magnet schools, said Levine's focus on innovative learning is paying off.

"Her test scores are really just out of sight when you compare them to the rest of Hamilton County and the state of Tennessee," she said.

OTHER MAGNET WINNERS

Chattanooga High School Center for Creative Arts also received the Magnet School of Excellence award from Magnet Schools of America. The group named Chattanooga School for the Liberal Arts as a School of Distinction.

about Kevin Hardy...

Kevin rejoined the Times Free Press in August 2011 as the Southeast Tennessee K-12 education reporter. He worked as an intern in 2009, covering the communities of Signal Mountain, Red Bank, Collegedale and Lookout Mountain, Tenn. A native Kansan, Kevin graduated with bachelor's degrees in journalism and sociology from the University of Kansas. After graduating, he worked as an education reporter in Hutchinson, Kan., for a year before coming back to Chattanooga. Honors include a ...

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