04/28/06 — 'There's more to Goldsboro than just scores' (part 2)

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'There's more to Goldsboro than just scores' (part 2)

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on April 28, 2006 1:54 PM

EDITOR'S NOTE: This is the second 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.

Two framed certificates adorn the wall of Goldsboro High School Principal Patricia Burden, both acknowledging her naming as "Principal of the Year" by Wachovia and the N.C. Department of Public Instruction. The awards are dated 1996, when she was at Goldsboro Middle School, and 2004, for her leadership at the high school.

Perception is everything, though.

As an administrator, Ms. Burden readily admits that recent events surrounding Goldsboro High have been humbling.

And having Judge Howard Manning include her school on the list of those he is threatening to close if their scores do not improve is sobering.

"And then you take a deep breath. You say, 'Where do we go from here?'" Ms. Burden said.

In another sense, she said, it has also been rejuvenating.

"I'm just determined that we're going to show the community and the state that we have students here at Goldsboro High School who can learn and will learn and will be able to reflect that learning on their tests."

Many have gotten so wrapped up in the numbers -- low performance test scores -- that, she said, "you don't see the true growth."

According to school officials, scores on the state's ABC performance standard, which measure students being at or above proficiency, have increased at the school from 30.2 percent in 1998-99 to 53.5 percent last year. That was still below the 60 percent benchmark, resulting in Goldsboro being named among 19 high schools in the state facing closure in the fall unless drastic improvements are made.

"I would love to be at 80 percent, but the issue is how far we have come and where do we go from here," Ms. Burden said. "We're not satisfied at being 53.5 percent. We're not going to be satisfied at 60. But between 53 and 60, there's getting over that hump so that you're not vulnerable at somebody's whim."

Since Judge Manning's March 3 letter ordering immediate changes within the low-performing schools, Ms. Burden said her efforts have also been directed toward the morale of students and staff alike.

"There's a lot of talk and editorials and I think in what Judge Manning said, without good support, students could be harmed by our school having been identified," she said. "They had to know that the walls were not going to close in on them; that we had a job to do; that we were going to be there; and that we were going to rise to the level of performance."

The challenge has been made greater by the fact that her perception of the school does not match up with what she hears.

"You know how some of it can get out there," Ms. Burden said. "When it's told and retold, there's truly a different story of what happens. What bothers me most is the comments when people have not been even been here, when people have not been here for even a walk-through."

Questions have been asked of her staff as well as the students, such as "Why are you here?" or job candidates have been encouraged not to accept a position at the school, she said.

"But for whatever reason, people enjoy teaching or working, period, working with kids. No matter where they live, what their background may be," she said. "I think that to me, we feel like over the last five years, there are many times that we have made great leaps, but something happens and it pushes us back, and we start working again."

Armed with the knowledge that for some youths, school is the only safe haven they have, Ms. Burden said that threatening to close Goldsboro High is not in the best interest of the students, staff or the school.

"What you try to do is keep it from becoming so personal that it interferes with your doing your job when you're at school," she said. "I think that my students and my staff feel the pressure about the perception that the public has about Goldsboro High School, but we try to keep focus on the best way to change that perception is based on our actions and what we do."

The principal maintains her belief in the staff's ability to give students a well-rounded education. While it may not always be reflected in the test scores, she said students are being prepared to enter the work force as well as four-year colleges.

There are, however, certain actions that could be taken to enhance the educational offerings, Ms. Burden said. Technology is one of the most important.

"As you progress in society, then your education has to change," she said. "This generation is really tied into the clicking of that thumb and we're going to have to address that beyond the point of students going into a computer lab. It will require more staff development because we were not raised in a technological age and will have to be trained in that area."

Parent involvement is another important component, she added.

"We need to develop some back-up plans at home so that education for that student is a first priority. Sometimes they have to respond too much as an adult when they are still children, and it impacts their learning and their performance in school," Ms. Burden said.

"Home life can be a positive toward a student's appreciation of education, particularly those children that find themselves in a low socio-economic situation. What propels them to get that good grade is someone supporting them."

As for the claim that the school has fewer highly qualified teachers and greater turnover rate, Ms. Burden attributes any departures to retirement, with only a handful who have left to teach at other schools in Wayne County.

"When I came to Goldsboro High, it had a staff that many were close to retirement before I even got here. We had some very highly qualified teachers retire. Also, we have had several teachers who have gone into administration and gone into counseling or who have relocated."

Highly qualified, however, is more than just a term defined by education officials, she said.

"I think highly qualified also comes with experience because the degree doesn't make you a very good teacher; it's practice and experience."

If Ms. Burden could convey anything that the community should understand about Goldsboro High School, first and foremost, it would be about the people there.

"Our student population is a good population and our students want to prepare themselves to be able to live as good citizens," she said. "It's just like any other school. It's just varied. We have students who work hard, students who ease by and students who are not applying themselves as well as we would like them to apply themselves. If you come into Goldsboro High School, you would find a school of tradition and these students are a part of that history. We have a beautiful campus, which I think you would find is just as nice inside.

"We have parents who care about the education of their students, who work hard to see that their students have the opportunity to be in school all day and to learn, and we have parents who sometimes feel uncomfortable in the educational arena. But if we need them and we call them, they're here."

Likewise, it has an excellent group of teachers and staff, she said.

"Even though we have had a change of staff members over the last five years, we do have a quality staff, and we have a staff that works hard and has a strong work ethic," she said. "They're very caring and nurturing for our students and they do have high expectations of the students."

All schools can be good in some ways and unique in others, she said. Goldsboro High is unique in the sense of its population. While she said she has no control over where people live and therefore the amount of diversity at the school, that shouldn't mean there can't still be equal opportunities in education for those who attend school there.

"We're working to make sure that the uniqueness becomes positive for kids in the future," she said.

What does she think should happen as the future of Goldsboro High School unfolds?

"I think that rather than just work to hit 60 percent, we're going to have to take a look at Goldsboro High School in terms of what do we want it to be for years to come. I think we're just going to have to redesign our high school. It's a very traditional high school."

In the fall, there will be a Freshman Academy, creating a sort of "school within a school," she said. There might be other similar efforts made to take the school in a different direction as part of the high school reform.

"If we look at the future with still that aim of improving test scores, we'll give our students something much better than just a Band-Aid fix."


In addition to all the expectations teachers today have, those at Goldsboro High School have had to add being a buffer for their students.

The latest blow came in early March when Judge Howard Manning handed down the pronouncement that Goldsboro High was among 19 high schools in the state facing closure unless drastic changes were made from the administration down. But it was not necessarily a new twist to the ongoing saga that educators at the school have faced for years.

"We have been here before. This isn't the first time that they have talked about this," said Kim McArthur, a history teacher who has spent all 15 years of her education career at Goldsboro High.

She recalls discussions about converting the school into a vocational school or a magnet school.

"No way," she said. "I came to teach academics."

Mrs. McArthur boasts that the school has a lot of students who continue on to college.

"These kids are phenomenal. I would put our best kids against any kids on the planet," she said. "With our kids, they have to fight through so many obstacles to get to reign supreme."

Still, she admits the local rumblings have had an effect on her as well as her students.

"These kids feel like they're no longer of any value, causing them to ask, 'Why are they harping on our school when we have made so many gains and strides?'" she said. "I'm telling them how great they're doing and the community is saying they're going to close the school. If the public perception is that this school needs to be closed, our motivation gets hurt. If the community already sees them as a failure, what do they have to strive for?"

Mrs. McArthur said it's hard not to take it personally when one's place of employment comes under public scrutiny. She said when people learn she is a teacher at Goldsboro High, she has been met with such comments as, "Can't you get a job anywhere else?" and "There must be something wrong with you."

"I have yet to have that happen that someone said, 'That's great.' I would like to know why you get that impression. I have yet to have someone tell me, 'Yes, I have been (in the school),'" she said. "But I say, the group that works here is phenomenal. We're a family. We have to go through struggles together. That's one reason I stay here."

English teacher Marquitta Raynor has spent her first year in education at Goldsboro High.

"The school has made strides. and it has made improvements," she said. "(But) it's like the kids haven't done enough. I don't think that's motivational."

Overall, most of the students that are really working hard, know what they have accomplished, said Julia Best, who has spent all 31 of her teaching years at Goldsboro High.

"They see it -- the honor roll, the different programs. There are those that maybe are not doing as well as they could. They know that there's negativity out there; they hear it from their friends at other schools," she said. "I will tell them that we just need to prove that we're better than they say we are."

It's hard to keep up the morale, admits Lettye Clark, a math teacher with 30 years of experience, the last six at Goldsboro.

"When you know you have worked hard and have a teacher who cares, and then you get this statement about lazy principals and poor administrators and you know how hard they have been working and how hard you have been working, statements from people out of the blue," she said.

The teachers have had to ward off conflicting reports and perceptions for some time that have been raised about competency of the teachers and students' low test scores.

"When you're in a situation like this one, you can do one of two things -- you can let it build you up, you can let it knock you down. I say we use it as a sort of motivator and inspiration," Ms. Raynor said. "I think it was overwhelming, especially when it came out in the newspaper. The students were really down. So, on top of teaching the regular lesson for the day, we had to deal with that.

"It's calling us together, letting us know what things we need to be aware of," Ms. Best said.

Call it a teachable moment.

'Some of them felt, 'here we go again,'" Ms. Best said. "We were down overall, but we felt like we could push through this. Here we go again. (But) we can do it. We're all going to do what we need to do."

Admittedly, there are problems at Goldsboro High, the teachers say. Boiling that statement down to any one factor, they say, is more difficult.

Ms. Best said there are varying degrees of what can be improved upon at the high school.

'We can name many, many things, but I really can't say that there's one thing," she said. "A lot of little things, and I think we are working on whatever those things are. I think altogether you will see at some point in time, a better result than what we have probably seen in the past."

Resolving some of the problems might take additional funding, but money is not the answer to everything, the teachers said.

"Kids love to work with computers and if we can somehow or another put all our learning on computers, I think some (students) will do better. They're getting away from textbooks. I'd like to see more money put into technology," Ms. Best said.

"I think more money would be good. I don't think more money would be a hindrance," Ms. Raynor said. "However, I have always thought that for a school to be successful, it has to have the support of a community.

"I think the problem is deeper than money for us. I don't understand how the community could look at us and say, you guys are not successful, yet the community does not give us support. I think that's a contradiction."

As a 1971 graduate of Goldsboro High, Ms. Clark said that is part of her commitment and reason for being there.

"It's my high school and I do take it personally because it's the high school I graduated from. It became part of my character and development. When I talk to people from other high schools, they don't have a close experience. I realize it's their loss. There was a lot that Goldsboro High School gave me, so I try and give back," she said.

She invites those with negative perceptions of the school to come out and see for themselves what teachers and staff are doing. Ms. Clark recalls the site visit made by a team in 2003, the year she was named the county's Teacher of the Year.

"They couldn't say enough positive thing about what they saw when they were here. People who really visit different schools came to this school, see other schools, and then they're in a position to say," she said.

Ongoing debate across the county about the importance of community schools is an interesting study in contrasts, Mrs. McArthur said.

"We talk about community schools. I can't call this a community school because everybody in this community doesn't come here," she said. "That concerns me."

"It's all over the county. It's really people are segregating themselves. It goes back to where you want to go to school with your people, with your family."

Over the years, she said she has witnessed students transferring to other schools, and not just white students.

"We had black students follow the white students. They did that because of community perception. They did that because they could do that," Mrs, McArthur said. "People ask me why I work here because I'm a white teacher in a black school. Why are you trying to do that when you have got poverty level conditions? Bring them in, let them see what happens here. You have got kids that have left because they're buying in to what the community tells them. When you get a kid and he goes to a poverty level home and in a classroom of the same economic status, same family background, what's there to achieve, what do they see?"

With such hurdles, Ms. Raynor said she is amazed at times that Goldsboro High School still functions.

"It's a battle when you have to face those things. However, our students at the same time have overcome these. They may be able to handle it because they have already had to deal with it," she said.

Certainly, the teachers say, there are unique situations at the high school. But there is no question why they as educators stay committed to their task.

"You hang in there because you want to reach the ones that no one else wants to reach," Mrs. McArthur said. "You want to stay in the trenches because nobody else wants to be in the trenches with them. And they deserve the better teachers. I think I'm an excellent educator, so that's why we stay."