05/07/06 — State Board of Education chairman says closing Goldsboro High not an option

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State Board of Education chairman says closing Goldsboro High not an option

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on May 7, 2006 2:07 AM

North Carolina's Board of Education chairman Howard Lee has heard more than a few times that Goldsboro High School faces challenges and that closure should be considered.

It's just not an option he is willing to entertain.

"Rev. Dr. William Barber came to me about a year and a half ago to make a case to either find ways to improve Goldsboro High or close it down," Lee said. Barber, pastor of Greenleaf Christian Church in Goldsboro, has since been named head of the state NAACP. "Of course, we had so much on our plate during that year and a half, particularly the Leandro case, and Judge (Howard) Manning hadn't weighed in on those other schools."

The Leandro case was a landmark action in which the N.C. Supreme Court ruled the state constitution required the state to provide not just an education, but a quality education, for all students.

So, in March when Judge Manning named Goldsboro as one of 19 schools across the state targeted for closure unless drastic measures were taken to improve such areas as test scores, Lee thought he knew all he needed to know about educational efficiency and quality at Goldsboro High.

"Goldsboro High School is certainly one of our targeted schools," he said. "This school has been called to my attention through the years more than one time."

And based on the past complaints and Judge Manning's pronouncement, Lee said he expected to see a school that was in real trouble, with no plan for the future.

"(I thought) Goldsboro would have to be among the worst schools in the state," he said.

That was, he said, until he talked to some of the people who actually worked there and in the Wayne County School System and looked at some of the statistics.

While he still says Goldsboro is a "challenged school," Lee found that there is an improvement plan in place and progress being made.

"While the growth is not what we would like to see, I am encouraged by some positive movement ... giving us something to work with," he said.

Lee said he is making sure that those efforts are supported at the state level as well.

He recently expanded the role of Dr. Pat Ashley, high school turnaround coordinator with the Department of Public Instruction, to assist all 19 identified schools in their improvement efforts.

"These high schools, in my opinion, based on what the governor has directed me to do, are among our highest priorities," he said.

Dr. Ashley recently visited Goldsboro High School, Lee said, spending time with principal Patricia Burden and other officials.

"She came back and gave me a profile report. We do have in hand a plan that has been submitted by the high school itself," he said. "We're reviewing that, and we'll come up with what we think has to be done prior to the next school year."

Lee said he is uncertain what measures will be taken as a result of the report's findings -- whether it means increasing staff development or "trying to plug in the holes in some fashion." But he added he is confident that the necessary support structure will be in place in time to make next year work.

Once the results of this year's end-of-grade tests in math and reading are released around July 17, Lee said officials will study the scores to determine where progress is or isn't being made.

"We'll look at what drastic action we need to take for next year," he said.

In the meantime, he said he has been laying the groundwork he hopes will ensure a promising future for Goldsboro High School.

Lee said this past week he directed his staff to put together a travel itinerary to visit 12 counties, including Wayne. In this county, his visit's purpose will be two-fold -- to bring the high school's plan to the public, while enlisting support from the community.

"I intend to hold a joint meeting with the local school board, superintendent and county commissioners. Whatever we do at Goldsboro, I consider not only to be the responsibility of the county and local control, but I will be offering to them the opportunity to create a partnership to continue to make drastic improvements to Goldsboro High School," he said.

In turn, Lee said he intends to extract commitments from both school and county officials of "what they'll do over the next year, what we'll do and what our options might be if we don't find improvements over the next year."

Other meetings being considered include one with the faith-based community as well as parents.

"Parents need to get involved to make this happen," he said.

Retired teachers are another resource that could be enlisted to support the process, Lee said. They could function as mentors for the students, he added.

But even with all the changes he expects to make, Lee said there is one option that is not under consideration for any of the 19 schools -- closure.

"My goal, I have constantly said, is not to close any schools. We believe all schools have the potential to turn around and be successful schools," he said.

But, he added, he knows the road will not be without bumps as Goldsboro High staff and students and the community work to improve the school.

"It may take a different level of support from us at the state level in terms of bringing resources," Lee said, mentioning such options as providing computers in more classrooms or reviewing areas where there might be a shortage of teachers.

And that same commitment has been made at all 19 of Judge Manning's targeted schools, he added.

"I believe that these schools, especially Goldsboro High School, if we do the right things, can be helped out," Lee said.

Imposing standards and finding ways to help students perform better, as well as supporting teachers, are part of the foundation on which Lee said he hopes the future can be built. Based on the remarks he has heard lately, he said the possibilities at Goldsboro High look positive.

"I'm receiving information that the principal there (Ms. Burden) certainly deserves good marks for providing creative and good leadership. I'm just very optimistic -- and especially if we can keep this strong principal there in a leadership role," he said.