While the rest of Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools students spend the next week fitting as much sun and fun into their last week of summer as possible, nearly 250 students will head back to class.
For kids attending Cook Literacy Model School, reopening as a new school in the old Cook Elementary building, class starts Monday.
“I am new and I am excited,” said Adaya Williams, going to see her new kindergarten classroom at Thursday night’s open house. “I got crayons for my supplies. I’m ready.”
Around 200 people showed up for the open house and cookout, where families were able to meet the school’s new teachers, visit spruced up classrooms and learn more about services like after-school programs and the PTA.
After struggling for years, district officials chose last spring to implement a turnaround model at Cook that essentially shut the school down at the end of last year and reopened it with a new staff, new motto and renewed sense of purpose to serve the kids living in and around the northeast neighborhood — extending from Northwest Boulevard to 24th Street and from Thurmond to Cleveland Avenue.
“We wanted it to be like a new school, even if it’s not a new building,” said Paula Wilkins, Cook’s new principal.
Since her hiring was announced in March, Wilkins has been working not just to rebrand the school, but to overhaul nearly every aspect of it. She’s hired a new team and redesigned the school day and curriculum into something the district hopes will be a model for how to teach literacy to kids.
One way the school is hoping to do that is by giving its students extra time in the classroom. Cook students go back a week earlier than the other schools in the district and will go a week longer at the end of the year. Cook’s school days are also 30 minutes longer than other elementary schools.
Many parents said they appreciate the extra couple weeks of school and are ready to send their kids next week.
“She wants to be a doctor, so as much school as she can get,” said Diandra Spease, whose daughter Janazia Peters was enrolling Thursday in the second grade. “I’m all for it.”
There were a lot of upset parents in the early spring as district officials rolled out the restart plans. School officials say they’ve worked to bring parents into the fold, though, and give them a voice in what their school becomes. On Thursday, Wilkins was still working to win over some skeptical parents. Adriene Bowman said she came to the open house intending to have to get a form signed to transfer her three kids out of Cook. After spending some time in the “new” school and meeting her kids’ prospective teachers, she’s decided to stay.
“Last year, this wasn’t a school for kids to be,” she said. “After meeting the teachers and coming to the open house, my babies are coming here.”
Those kinds of interactions, Wilkins said, are early signs of success —the kind that bolster a team with years of hard work in front of them. That team is an almost entirely new staff, but Wilkins said she focused on recruiting experienced teachers ready for a challenge.
Teachers like Alisha Taylor, who came to Cook from Diggs-Latham Elementary School and brought with her 13 years experience teaching exceptional children. She’s making the move to teaching first grade at Cook.
“We know it’s not going to be easy,” she said, “but that’s what we signed up for.”
While the new team was busy learning a new curriculum and making house calls to their prospective students, the building itself was being overhauled, too. It’s been cleaned, repainted and filled with new furniture, technology and supplies.
Shined up like a new penny, Wilkins said Cook is ready to start school Monday.
“The faculty has worked really hard,” she said. “We’re as ready as we can be.”