03/14/06 — School board says Goldsboro High will stay open

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School board says Goldsboro High will stay open

By News-Argus Staff
Published in News on March 14, 2006 1:57 PM

Wayne County school officials discussed the future of Goldsboro High School Monday -- and sent a resounding "no" to a letter from County Manager Lee Smith demanding the board appear to answer questions about the school's status for the fall.

Board members did take the opportunity, however, to ask county officials to allot more money for the schools.

Superintendent Dr. Steven Taylor assured Board of Education members and the public at the board's meeting Monday night that Goldsboro High School will not close this fall -- and that progress is being made toward fixing the test score concerns that put the school on the state's "failing" list.

It was the first meeting of the school board since Superior Court Judge Howard Manning threatened 19 schools in the state, including Goldsboro High, with closure in the fall if improvements are not made.

"There are certainly no plans to close Goldsboro High School in the fall of 2006," Taylor said. "In addition to that, Goldsboro High School is not for sale."

While bound by state mandates, Taylor said he remained optimistic about the outcome, citing assurances made in an e-mail received from state Board of Education Chairman Howard Lee.

Lee wrote that the state board "is committed to keeping all our schools open and accessible to all students. We also remain committed to ensuring that all schools have strong leadership and a clear plan for improving student performance. ... It is important for you to assure your teachers, students and parents that we will take all the steps necessary for schools to open for the 2006-07 school year."

Lee also wrote that a school work group of state and local education leaders is being convened to develop a plan for addressing high schools with persistent performance deficiencies.

Taylor has denied that the district had any prior knowledge about Howard's statement or his intention to sanction the 19 listed schools. He also stood firm in his support of both the high school and its leadership under principal Patricia Burden.

"Goldsboro High School has come a long way in a relatively short period of time," he said.

Dr. Craig McFadden, assistant superintendent for testing and accountability, said that in essence, Judge Manning's message implemented a third accountability program for the schools. He said that while test scores had been below those of other schools, progress has been made.

Since 1998, he said, the percentage of scores at or above proficiency has increased from 30.2 percent to 53.5 percent last year.

"What's important is that, over the past eight years, all but two of the years the school made the growth that was expected. Six of the last eight years of the (accountability) program, teachers have received bonus money for accomplishing this," he said.

Associate Superintendent for Instruction Dr. Sandra McCullen highlighted initiatives that have been implemented at the school and those to come. In addition to the school-based health program, WISH, the school has added the Wade Edwards Learning Lab, which is also utilized by the staff and the public, she said. Salary incentives for teachers at Goldsboro and other city schools have been introduced, grants have been acquired and teaching training provided.

Ms. Burden rattled off a list of programs that have been proven successful at the school over the last six years. Although she admitted the test scores are "not where we want to be," she said she and her staff "have always been working hard to cross those boundaries."

Extended learning, Saturday academies, ongoing after school tutorials and week-long remediation are a few of the extra programs the school has implemented, she said. Additional staff have also been hired to support areas like geometry and biology, she added.

But some of the proof is in the academic rewards graduates from Goldsboro High School have been offered. In recent years, scholarships have rocketed from $394,000 for the Class of 2003, to $1.28 million the following year and $2.3 million in 2005.

"Last year, we had a student chosen to receive both Park and Morehead scholarships and another graduate is in his third year at Princeton and doing very well," she said.

Board member Thelma Smith spoke out in support of Ms. Burden's efforts.

"You have done a tremendous job. I don't care what anybody says," she said, which evoked a standing ovation from those in the packed meeting room. "I doubt if there's one in this room whose job is as difficult as yours. Pat Burden, make no mistake, this board appreciates all that you have done and all that you're doing."

Mrs. Smith went on to say much of what is wrong "is not what's going on in the classroom; it's what's going on outside the school that's hard. I challenge those people -- preachers, I don't care who you are -- if they'd do what they could to teach the family to get those students prepared for school, ready to learn, I don't think we would have this problem."

Board member Pete Gurley agreed.

"I think it's a sad situation that we have to take undue criticism because of a judge making a decision on his own, arbitrarily, without asking anybody," he said. He said that he had been very bothered by many of the comments and criticisms he has heard over the last 10 days.

"Everybody on the board is behind you," board chairman John P. Grantham said to Ms. Burden. "Nobody has any idea that this decision is going to stand. It's kind of ridiculous."

Taylor then read from a letter he received from County Manager Lee Smith expressing the county Board of Commissioners' concern about the situation.

"'The Board of Commissioners would like to know how long the Board of Education has been aware of this possibility and what steps have been taken to ensure the school will be able to be open for the fall term,'" Smith wrote. "'More importantly, the Board of Commissioners would like to know what steps are presently being taken to ensure the school will be open as scheduled in August 2006.'"

Further, Smith extended a request from the commission "that you come before the County Commissioners on March 21, 2006, to explain the steps that you and the Board of Education have taken to ensure Goldsboro High School remains open."

The letter sparked a discussion about the commission's perceived interference in school board business.

"I've got a problem with the letter," Gurley said, explaining that it pointed to something he had been suggesting for a long time. "The Wayne County Board of Commissioners feels like we're just another entity of theirs. We're charged with running the board of education, not them."

He said if the commissioners really wanted to lend a hand, they could do so by providing needed funding.

"If they could fund us accordingly, it would be a big help," he said. "As far as us having to report to them what we're going to do in certain cases, that's our responsibility."

Board member Rick Pridgen questioned the board's having to appear before the commissioners.

"We're elected Board of Education, and it's our duty to run the schools and to run them in a responsible manner," he said. "The county Board of Commissioners is not the school board. I don't see why we have to go to them to present this case."

Pridgen suggested sending a video copy of the board meeting for the commission to review.

"That explains everything they're asking for," he said. "I do not see the necessity of us being micro-managed."

Board member Shirley Sims said it seemed pointless to continue going back and forth with commissioners and still having no funding to show for it.

"If we're going to appear before them, I think we need to ask what they're going to do with the $451,070" of the $801,000 teacher supplement that had initially been requested, Gurley said. He and board member Lehman Smith recounted the court battle that ensued between the two boards, which resulted in the school board's being given $350,000 with the understanding that the remaining $451,070 could be obtained upon request.

Lehman Smith made a motion to send another request to commissioners for that money. Taylor said he would draft a letter and forward it to the commission.

"Where we are now is that we have a need that we had not anticipated. (We) feel it's justified to ask for that," Taylor said.