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State official hails Cumming Elementary as family friendly
cumming
Cumming Elementary Principal Pam Pajerski displays the schools Family-Friendly Partnership School Award for her students and teachers. Only four such designations were given in the state. - photo by Kayla Robins

CUMMING — Cumming Elementary has received its share of awards and recognition, but when the entire school gathered in the cafeteria Friday afternoon to accept its Family-Friendly Partnership School Award, the kids “oohed and ahhed” and clapped for Georgia’s superintendent of schools.

Just four schools in the state were designated Family-Friendly Partnership schools, and two are in Forsyth County. Superintendent John Barge will return next month to honor Midway Elementary.

“To get two of the four [awards],” Barge said, “with the kind of reputation Forsyth County has — its academic achievement and its community involvement — it’s no wonder people want to move here.”

He said in April, when the list was announced, that the “schools that won this award understand the importance of what welcoming environments bring to student success. They are models for the entire state when it comes to engaging families and making parents feel welcome from the moment that they walk in the door.”

According to the state Department of Education, Family-Friendly Partnership schools must be Title I. That means at least 35 percent of the student body receives free or reduced meals, for which additional federal dollars are allotted to help high numbers of low-income students meet educational goals.

The schools also must have welcoming staff members, comfortable waiting areas, user-friendly websites and encourage parent involvement.

Up to 10 schools can win each year.

All told, these schools “represent the best in customer service for Georgia families, whether it’s on the phone, in the front office or online.”

Schools in the running received undercover phone calls and visits from “parents” looking for information or assistance. They were also visited by state department staff, who interviewed parents, students, community members and school staff.

After the winners were chosen from a pool of 10 finalists, Barge called the principals to surprise them with the news.

During his stop at Cumming, he visited classrooms and talked with school personnel. He also heard from parents about whey they like the school, which serves free or reduced meals to 65 percent of its students.

He even departed the campus in a helicopter to the delight of a few classes that snuck out — with teacher permission — to watch him wave as it took off.

“It’s really all about bringing it back to the kids,” said Pam Pajerski, Cumming’s principal, “involving them as much as possible and making it fun. Because you really do get out of it what you expect.”

Pajerski said she enjoyed seeing the parents and students appreciate the high level of recognition bestowed by Barge. The teachers, she said, recognize the honor, but they’re so focused on helping the kids that they expect it.

But winning this award doesn’t mean she and her staff have completed their work.

“You never say we’re done, you’ve got it,” she said. “Because we don’t. There’s always something to improve.”

Earlier Friday, Barge visited South Forsyth Middle to celebrate its status as a Blue Ribbon School.