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Rutherford College Elementary: Another community school

This year was the first time that North Carolina schools received a grade for their performance. The North Carolina General Assembly created the grading system in 2013, see North Carolina General Statute § 115C-83.15 The A-F grades measure a school's success in achievement and growth, but the results heavily rely on the former - 80 percent achievement and 20 percent growth. The grades are determined using a 15-point scale where 85 to 100 is an A, and so on down the scale. The grades were supposed to move to a 10-point scale after this year, but legislation passed by the General Assembly this session will keep it at the 15-point scale for the time being. Other proposals seeking to change the weight given to growth versus achievement have, so far, failed to gain traction. EdNC's series this week looks at the 17 schools with 50 percent or more free-and-reduced-price lunch students that received As.

Rutherford College Elementary is a school in the town of Rutherford College located in Burke County. The town is small with a population of a little more than 1,300, and as you might expect, the school is small with about 233 students currently. 


This is another elementary school that succeeded where others failed. With more than 50 percent free-and-reduced-price lunch students, the school received an A on the recent A-F report cards – most schools with a similar level of free-and-reduced-price-lunch students did not fare nearly as well. 

IMG_0005Here, again, size is a factor in the school’s success. According to the Department of Public Instruction’s North Carolina School Report Cards, the average size of an elementary school in Burke County as of 2013-14 was 374, while the state average is 496. The website lists Rutherford College as having a population of 197 that same year. 

The small population of Rutherford College Elementary, and its status as the community elementary school of the town, gives it advantages that other schools don’t have. 

“The old term bigger is better is not always accurate,” said Principal Jeana Gallagher.

“It’s nice to have the size school we have so we can know each family on an intimate basis.”

The student to teacher ratio is on par with most schools in the county and state, but the sense of community fostered by an intimate environment is a boon. 

Gallagher says parents are invested in the school because it is the “heart and soul of the community.”

The small population means that teachers have little trouble keeping up daily communications with parents about their students’ progress.

And the teachers are invested in the students’ lives, both in school and out. They have high expectations and will attend student events that are unrelated to the school; and the teachers keep track of their students even when they no longer have them in the classroom. 

“It’s very rare that I mention a student’s name and whoever I’m talking to doesn’t know that student,” said Kristie Compton an Instructional Coach and parent of a fifth grader at the school. 

Of course, size isn’t everything. Rutherford College Elementary is doing a lot right. Teachers volunteer to do after-school remediation with students who are falling behind, they do daily formative assessments as well as quarterly benchmark assessments so they can gear their instruction to the students’ needs, and teachers talk to each other. If little Johnny just left third grade and is still a little behind in math, his third-grade teacher tells his fourth-grade teacher. 

“I really think it comes down to the teachers all working together as one for that common goal, which is the students and seeing them succeed,” said third-grade teacher Sara Swan. 

By all accounts in my interviews, the teachers, staff and administration are excellent, and their educational strategies are paying off, including the new 1 to 1 digital device initiative. 

But, as in Ocracoke, Rutherford College Elementary is a unique school. It’s the hub of a small town with a small population of students. This schools feels like a throw-back to the smaller, community schools of years ago. It allows for close relationships between teachers, students and parents. 

The Map: School Report Cards

Monday: A-F Grades: Why early college high schools succeed

Tuesday: Ocracoke School: An education like no other

Wednesday: Rutherford College Elementary: Another community school

Wednesday: Riverbend Elementary School: Excellence and intimacy

Thursday: Henderson Collegiate: A school built on idealism

Friday: Why do some schools serving low-income populations get As?

Alex Granados

Alex Granados was the senior reporter for EducationNC from December 2014-March 2023.