MOULTRIE -- Thursday was a banner day for Colquitt County Schools. Not only was Odom Elementary School teacher Emily Wall selected as a finalist to be the state's Teacher of the Year, but also Hamilton Elementary School was held up as a 2005 Georgia School of Excellence in Student Achievement.

The state found that Hamilton -- one of 11 schools distinguished -- demonstrated the greatest gains in reading, language arts and mathematics over the past three years.

"Really, it's still like a dream," Principal Brenda DeMott said. "I'm just elated. I guess that's the word. If it's more than excited we are elated."

Hamilton Elementary has achieved adequate yearly progress three years straight after being designated as "needs improvement school." Adequate yearly progress is a federal requirement mandated through President Bush's No Child Left Behind Act.

In 2001, 34 percent of fourth graders were performing below standards in reading. That percentage dropped to 3 percent in 2004. In language arts, 20 percent of 2001 fourth graders were below standards. In 2004, all students were performing at expected levels or better. In math, 41 percent weren't making the grade in 2001. By 2004, only 6 percent weren't.

DeMott said the school's impressive progress is a concerted effort of all her staff. She also credits Colquitt County School Superintendent Leonard McCoy for jump-starting a healthy competitive spirit within the system.

"We just decided several years ago when were on that failing schools list -- it hurt our feelings really bad, because [the] definition of failing can be so misinterpreted. We didn't feel like we were failing, but when we got that label it was like, 'This was not going to continue to happen to us,'" she said. "The important thing is the commitment of the staff. It's not any one person. It's a team effort."

And that team includes parents. The school has pulled all the stops in efforts to get parents more involved in their child's education.

"You just read about this happening to other schools up above Macon, but we're so excited," DeMott said.

DeMott plans to celebrate the state's recognition of their hard work Tuesday when students return from holiday and with parents Thursday at a parents' night already scheduled.

But wait, the school superintendent said, there's more.

"We just about carried off the state board meeting (Thursday)," McCoy said, referring to this honor, Wall's selection and another recognition that got a standing ovation at the state school board meeting in Atlanta.

The third set of kudos went to Colquitt County High School Principal Bob Jones. After the high school's writing scores came back the highest they've ever been, Jones sent an appreciation letter to his teachers stating how a strong belief in children pays off in results. The letter plus statements from McCoy linking the high school's success with the Georgia's Choice program were read aloud at the board meeting.

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