Buddy Echols, interim superintendent for the Greenville Independent School District, believes the key to increasing student performance can be found in one word, hope.

Echols said the school district had already taken several steps to offer tutoring and other opportunities to help students do better on the Texas Assessment of Academic Skills (TAKS) test, but found the students failed to take advantage of them.

“And we came to the conclusion that in many instances, what they didn’t have was a real hope that they would be sucessful,” Echols said. “What they didn’t have was the encouragement from some of us that they needed and the expectation that they could be successful.”

With that in mind, the school district joined Thursday with the Greenville Chamber of Commerce and the Greenville Board of Development to launch Project HOPE (Help Our Performance Explode).

The program was the focus of the Chamber’s first Wake Up To the Issues breakfast at the Fletcher Warren Civic Center.

Echols said the school district was pushing for the students to excel and was asking for the business community’s help in the process.

“If we don’t expect them to be successful, if we don’t expect them to perform at an exemplary level, they’ll never do it,” Echols said. “So we have to first expect them to do it, and then we have to communicate that to them.”

Echols said Project HOPE will involve providing the students encouragement, offer incentives and rewards for those who pass the TAKS and empower the students by embarking on a long term effort.

Brad Press, director of community services for the Greenville ISD, said the program will target students in the seventh through 12th grades and calls for the business community to become involved in three different ways.

First, business leaders would be asked to write letters of encouragement to each of the students in advance of the next round of the TAKS.

“We want you to stress to them that you believe in them and that you are pulling for them,” Press said. “A kind word from a local business owner, especially one that they don’t already know, can go a long way.”

The second step asks businesses to help provide incentives for students to pass the TAKS or to become active in after school tutoring and other programs.

“An example of incentives would be things like movie passes, gift cards to Blockbuster, gift cards to Hastings, gift cards to Applebee’s, that sort of thing,” Press said. “Some people may call this bribery, but if it convinces a kid to go to after school tutoring, we’re willing to do it and you can call it anything you want.”

The third stage would be the most important, Press said, as the school district and businesses develop a long term strategy for success.

“Changes like this rarely happen overnight, but a sustained effort can yield phenomenal results,” Press said.

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