Study: 'Common sense' key to Fruithurst Elementary success; Center for Rural Alabama discovers why school thrives
by Michael A. Bell
Staff Writer
May 07, 2009 | 6698 views |  0 comments | 56 56 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Fruithurst Elementary School teacher Vicki Roberts helps first-grader Gracie Biggers with her reading during class Wednesday. Photo: Trent Penny/The Anniston Star
Fruithurst Elementary School teacher Vicki Roberts helps first-grader Gracie Biggers with her reading during class Wednesday. Photo: Trent Penny/The Anniston Star
A sense of family and willingness to work together help Fruithurst Elementary succeed despite its high population of underprivileged kids, according to a report released Wednesday.

In "Lessons Learned From Rural Schools," the Cleburne County school is praised for creating a positive environment where kids want to succeed and teachers want to return each year.

"I'll put Fruithurst up against most any school in the state of Alabama," said Larry Lee, director of the Center for Rural Alabama and co-author of the study. "It is possible that we can give children a first-rate education in rural Alabama. If a handful can do it, then other people can do it, too."

Fruithurst last year boasted the best-in-state scores for fourth-grade math, yet 73 percent of its students receive free and reduced lunch. This prompted a study by Lee and his center, a group with the state Department of Agriculture that strives to improve the quality of life for rural Alabama. The center examined Fruithurst's academic success and that of nine other rural schools in Alabama to uncover the secrets behind the success.

But there were no hidden secrets, the authors write.

"Instead, we found a lot of common sense, mixed with a lot of passion, love and caring." Other commonalities to success include strong community backing and strong communication between school and home.

Fruithurst Elementary and the nine other high-performing rural schools were recognized in Prattville Wednesday night at a banquet sponsored by the center. The center studied the success of rural schools in hopes of sharing the secrets to education and community leaders across the state.

Each of the 10 schools studied have at least 65 percent of students on subsidized lunches. Authors of the study examined external and internal environments at the schools, community interaction, leadership styles of school leaders and the personality tests of more than 100 teachers. They attended parent-teacher meetings, festivals, and interviewed everyone from superintendents to people on the street.

The state Department of Agriculture, Alabama Farmer's Federation and Economic Development Association of Alabama sponsored the study, which can be found at

Principal Christy Hiett credits Fruithurst's success to a unified community.

"I think everybody works together here — the teachers, the parents, the students," she said. "We all work to get what's best for each individual child."

Hiett started teaching at Fruithurst in 1996 and became principal two years ago. Like so many teachers at the school, Hiett was once a student there.

What keeps the teachers from leaving, she said, is happiness.

"People are happy being there. There's a sense of family, of community," she said. "We all work together … You just can't put a price on it."

Lee said 10,000 copies of the study will be distributed statewide to school board members, mayors, opinion leaders, among others.

"What we hope to do is just simply raise the dialogue about the state of education in rural Alabama … to get more people to understand: If we're gonna make true progress in (rural) Alabama, it's got to start with our schools."

Other schools

The other elementary schools studied were:

Calcedeaver (Mobile County)

Dutton (Jackson County)

Ervin (Wilcox County)

Harlan (Covington County)

Huxford (Escambia County)

Meek (Winston County)

Phil Campbell (Franklin County)

Southern Choctaw (Choctaw County)

Turner (Perry County)

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