04/27/06 — Is Goldsboro really a failing high school?

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Is Goldsboro really a failing high school?

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on April 27, 2006 1:51 PM

EDITOR'S NOTE: This is the first installment of a three-part, in-depth look at the issues facing Goldsboro High School after Judge Howard Manning's warning that it has been included on a list of state high schools that must improve their test scores or they could be closed.

Reaction has been heated and strong since Judge Howard Manning sent a powerful letter to state school leaders recently that Goldsboro High School was among 19 high schools across the state facing closure in the fall if performance levels do not drastically improve.

Many suggest the problems at Goldsboro and other inner city schools are not new, offering suggestions and alternatives, while fueling the debate over where blame should be placed.

School officials delivered a lengthy presentation at the March Board of Education meeting, detailing initiatives implemented and progress being made at Goldsboro High in recent years. Individuals, advocacy groups and the NAACP have joined the debate over appropriate steps that could be taken to ensure the school's future.

"Does the judge realize the problems our communities will face?" was one of the questions asked in a written statement released by the Advocates of Goldsboro/Wayne County, an eight-member group of men formed to address some of the educational needs in the community.

The judge targeted education leaders and local systems, but that does not necessarily reflect efforts and strides being made, the statement said.

"Children have different reactions to state and national tests," the advocacy group's letter said, listing several reasons for the frustration, such as "The Edison Plan, the state ABCs, (No Child Left Behind), the open attendance policy, segregated schools, long tenure membership on boards of education, uncertified teachers in the classrooms, disciplinary prohibition, boarding buses in early morning and returning home at dawn, overprotective parents, failure to allow superintendents and principals to design and execute their plan for advancement."

The bottom line, the Advocates said, is that "schools are institutions that should motivate children to learn and work together to achieve principles of democratic living. Procrastinating today leads to a greater price tomorrow, and closing schools leads to overcrowding and a soaring drop-out rate."

William "Paul" Pitt was a teacher and assistant principal at Goldsboro High around the time of integration, 1970 until 1980. The Dillard High School graduate said the community has already lost that high school, and he would hate to see the same fate befall Goldsboro.

"I really would like Goldsboro High School to remain a high school," he said.

While he admits the school has changed, he said some of it is a fact of life. At the same time, he attributed the changing climate to the transfer policy.

"What has happened with the system, they have allowed students and teachers to move," he said. "If they can go away to Eastern Wayne or Southern Wayne or wherever, they go."

The school is still a good one, though, he said.

"It's an inner city school. It's going to make some hardships even if they do some busing," he said. "Just from listening to people, Goldsboro High School has for the most part taken teacher losses and has been able to take whatever they can get. We're still getting the better teachers in and they have the option to leave. These kinds of things do weaken the process."

Neal Stitt retired from teaching in 1981 after having worked at both Dillard and Goldsboro high schools. He had also served on the city school board and interim board when the county and city boards merged. In recent years, he has been affiliated with the Advocates group, which he said visited Goldsboro High School shortly before the announcement was made about the possible closing.

"We were very impressed with the programs at GHS," he said. "We were just visiting, not in a critical view but as an enlightening view. The announcement came as a surprise."

He suggested that Judge Manning "based his possible action on not necessarily outdated figures, but he did not see the most recent figures where there were improvements."

Evelyn Smith Warren is an avid supporter of the Dillard Alumni as well as the athletics program at Goldsboro High. She lived and worked in New York after college, but chose to return to her hometown 10 years ago when she retired.

"I attend all the games over there," she said. "I try to encourage the children and keep involved with them."

Ms. Warren said she is not in favor of closing the school.

"I'm hoping and praying that they will not close Goldsboro High School. It's the only high school that we have in the area and the city," she said.

"I think it would disrupt our children too much, to bus them out. It might discourage them. We're trying to keep them in school as much as possible."

One of the main problems is perception, said Frederick Shadding Sr., a retired educator and supervisor. Some of it is caused by the media and "certain leaders who always jump on questionable academic test statistics that do not truly measure the progress that is taking place at the school, even though the test scores have been rising yearly at the school," he said.

"You cannot measure attitudinal changes, aspirations and self-esteem. Very seldom do you hear about the great things, innovative science and math programs, students at Princeton and other highly ranked universities, the Wade Computer Center, and the list goes on and on."

What is to become of the progress that the students and the school are making, he asked.

"The community should not rush to judgment as Judge Howard Manning did in suggesting the closing of the school and radical administrative and staff changes."

Shadding said the problem is not with the principal, the staff, the parents or the school board alone. Rather, it is a city and county problem that must be addressed so the school can continue to be a viable entity in the community.

"Goldsboro High School needs total community support and not continuous condemnation. We must all work together to keep our community high school open and offer our assistance to the dedicated administration and staff at Goldsboro High School," he said.

Charles Wright moved to Wayne County more than 10 years ago after a stint in the military. Three of his four children went to Goldsboro High School, so he says he has witnessed firsthand some of the inequities in the school.

When his son, Charles Jr. graduated in 1993, there was more of a diverse environment at Goldsboro High, he said. Because of the strong athletic program, students from other schools were competing to transfer there.

By the time his next son, Dario, graduated in 1998, while the men's basketball team won the state championship that year, diversity had declined by about half, Wright said.

Youngest son Adam, now a senior, also attended the school for his first two years of high school.

"Because of the situation and not having all the teachers in place, I decided to transfer him to Wayne Country Day School," Wright said.

Citing problems with classes covered by substitutes for long periods, he said he made the decision to change his son's educational environment.

"I would have preferred that I could have transferred to another public school, but that option was not available to him," he said.

Adam has been a sports standout, Wright said, with several colleges looking at him for basketball scholarships. His son still maintains friendships at Goldsboro.

"He still misses the school but as a parent I had to do what was in the best interest of him at this time," he said. "I'm still concerned about the school. My children attended there."

The problem at GHS is nothing new, he said. There are well-informed citizens groups who have brought similar concerns over all the city schools to the school board for years, he said.

Wright suggested the progress being made at the high school is not completely accurate. Test scores have gone up, he said, but last year, there was actually a decrease.

"When our leaders tell us we're making progress, a concerned parent can go to the computer and look at this," he said.

Using an eight-year window to discuss improvements is not reasonable, Wright said.

"Realistically speaking, no one has a job where they judge that by your eight years of experience. It's very alarming because the populations went down and the scores went down," he said.

Other concerns he mentioned included the number of classes being taught by highly qualified teachers, discrepancies over the number of students eligible for free and reduced lunch, and the fact that Title I funds are no longer being accepted by GHS.

He said he doesn't think there is a need to build another high school. Rather, look at models being used in other states to create a more diverse socioeconomic population, he said.

"I think we can create a new high school within GHS, with innovative thinking and people willing to move foward," he said. "I think the way it is now, it's a disservice for elected officials to keep allowing this and not throwing any real help to GHS."

Widening district lines would be effective. Wright estimated there are at least 150 students who live within two miles of Goldsboro High but instead attend Eastern Wayne.

"Right now we're working in reverse. We're actually busing some children four times the amount of distance to Eastern Wayne High School than we would have to bus them. A lot of parents are concerned about their children riding an inordinate amount of time," he said.

The Rev. Dr. William Barber, president of the state NAACP, expressed profound agreement with the judge's ruling.

"If drastic steps are not taken to correct the inadequacies of these schools, our children will continue to be tracked into dead-end jobs or jails," he said. "We believe that what Judge Manning's mandate is really demanding is the opening up of opportunity, not the closing of schools. This is a must. If we can build prisons, and much less attract corporations, we can certainly ensure quality education for all of our children."

Barber said he would throw the full weight of the NAACP behind the mandate, calling for others to do the same. He said he would enlist support from the legislature and other elected officials, with several conferences planned to mobilize widespread support for stronger leadership, as well as more money for teachers and principals.

Many of the schools named by Manning are predominantly African American, Barber said. If they were more diverse, there would be more of a public outcry about the achievement gaps, he said.

"The truth is, when you look at the data, not the emotion, but the empirical data, many of our schools have moved backward," he said. "Now the schools are facing not only resegregation of bodies, but segregation of dreams, segregation of opportunity, and segregation of resources."

Alluding to the judge's terming the problem "educational genocide," Barber took it a step further and called the burgeoning problem "organized, legalized child abuse."

The problems are not new or unique, Barber said. The NAACP and area ministers have raised the same warning and read the same information for years.

"Our schools are in crisis. Children are being miseducated and abused," he said. "We see resegregation happening at warp speed. We believe it's constitutionally illegal, socially immoral, economically suicidal."

While similar problems are happening all over the country, Barber said one of the unique things is how the school board has blamed city planners and public housing.

"The base is in the city, which is segregated, and so is the mall. But what we have is not a city planning (problem) but a public policy decision," he said. "It's not because the city isn't diverse; it's because the school board over the years has made decisions that have caused it. When the school board says they can't redistrict, that's not true. The problem is they don't redistrict in the heart of the city."

Across the board, students are not measuring up to their district counterparts, says Ashley Osment, senior attorney for the Center of Civil Rights in Chapel Hill. Goldsboro High School has the highest number of lateral entry teachers and reports of long-term substitute teachers in core classes, she said.

Significant numbers are also graduating with lower proficiency scores than their peers at other schools in the county, she said.

As an example, Barber said that SAT scores at Goldsboro High averaged 841, nearly 200 points behind those at Eastern Wayne High. He said he is bothered by the discrepancy, and others should be, too.

"If the same thing were happening at Rosewood High School or Charles B. Aycock, you can't tell me that folks wouldn't be turning over everything to find out why," he said. "Either you believe that students get more brains once you leave the city limits than if you're black and in the city, or else you have to believe that students don't have the same resources and opportunities."

Ms. Osment took it a step further.

"If that were at a school where the teachers were certified, had more experience, the very same kid, very same neighborhood, very same parents, very same income level, it would be a very different life for that kid. That's a conscious decision by every single school board that makes it. This is not a time to blame kids. We at this moment are polishing the apple of apartheid and there's no other way to talk about it."

It is a serious issue, Barber said.

"We have to turn all of our assets, energies and resources toward turning this tide around. We have talked about having a mass meeting to make sure the message gets out. We must raise these issues and call for change. It can be fixed," he said. "We already know what fixes the problem -- quality teachers, quality leadership, quality resources."

If efforts aren't made to fix it in Goldsboro, a city that's 50-50 black and white, it won't be fixed anywhere in the country, Barber said.