07/30/06 — GHS administrator, county officials confident

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GHS administrator, county officials confident

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on July 30, 2006 2:08 AM

School officials remain steadfast in their belief that Goldsboro High School's performance is improving and the school will not be shut down this fall.

Judge Howard Manning, who earlier this year threatened to close schools that did not show marked improvement, recently announced an Aug. 18 hearing date to review the progress the 17 identified schools have made toward improving student test performance.

Manning's edicts have sent officials and school systems across the state scrambling to comply before the gavel comes down.

Wayne County school leaders have conducted numerous discussions locally and have met with their counterparts from around the state to discuss strategies and programs already in place and ones that could be introduced to fix the problem. Staff development efforts are also being tightened and Goldsboro High principal Pat Burden has had the chance to join administrators from other struggling schools at a state-sponsored leadership training program.

But in the end, school leaders say, Goldsboro's future will come down to test scores.

When the state released the list of schools that did not make adequate yearly progress, Goldsboro High School was among them. But officials say that AYP is not the marker used for the performance composite.

"AYP in general deals with all schools. Judge Manning is addressing ABCs and they're tallied totally different," Ms. Burden said. "We're concerned about both, but our focus is on ABCs. As we improve on ABCs, it should reflect the AYP."

Right now, Goldsboro High School's performance data is preliminary, but appears to be above the standard set by Judge Manning, Superintendent Dr. Steven Taylor said. Depending on the yardstick used, the results show Goldsboro High School scored between 56 and 60 percent.

"We know we're above 55 percent, the cut-off that Judge Manning set, so I think we're going to be OK," Taylor said. "We have done everything they asked us to do."

At the same time, Gov. Mike Easley has since come out with a higher standard for schools, setting the cutoff measurement at 60 percent.

Taylor said reports he has received from the state Department of Public Instruction have shown that Goldsboro High is making progress.

"But at the same time, we don't want to stand still; we want to move forward from that," he said.

And he added that teachers, students and parents do not have worry. He thinks Goldsboro High will reopen with the other schools this fall.

"I haven't received anything from DPI that we were in danger of closing," Taylor said. "I don't anticipate that at all. We're somewhere between what Judge Manning has asked for and the governor's goal. In the situation we're in right now with the performance composite where it is now, we don't have any fear that the school will be closed."

The "gloom and doom headlines" centering around the Judge's decision have generated additional fear, Ms. Buden said.

"It hurts when we try to recruit teachers, and parents and students are upset thinking children will be leaving the school and that it will be closed," she said.

She is also optimistic that the news will be good.

"For us, I can't tell you what Judge Manning is going to do. I just know that I want him to be fair and that the state of North Carolina has specific guidelines that indicated to us at the beginning of the year that the writing test scores would not count toward the ABC scores," although they did count toward AYP, she added.

Not only was 2006 the first year for the new writing test, Ms. Burden said, but the U.S. History and civics tests were also added to the mix. Depending on which way the scores are calculated, that will determine how Goldsboro High actually did.

"If you just count based on what we did this year to what we did last year, our test scores would be at 56 percent, which was some growth," she said. "If you don't count any of that -- the writing, U.S. History and civics -- in the ABCs, we would be at 60.1 percent."

And that is good news, Ms. Burden said.

"That tells you that Goldsboro High School is moving forward."

Ms. Burden said she feels good about her school's efforts and wants the community to see that there is more to her high school then just test scores.

"Sometimes when they see the test scores, that's it," she said, adding that leads to the faulty perception that "nothing is going right at Goldsboro High School, and that's not true."

But that doesn't mean she is satisified with Goldsboro High's performance on standardized tests.

"It's the way in which we're held accountable," Ms. Burden said. "I do not deny that. I understand the reason for it. But it's one component of our school. Our school is not faltering on kids going to college, graduating from high school prepared to go to college, community college, going into the military or the workforce. We're not failing there."

Ms. Burden said she remains encouraged about the progress that has been made.

"The jump this year, no matter how they determine the scores, we know what we have done based on the data. If the judge turns around and counts (the new test markers) anyway, it doesn't change the progress that we have made," she said. "I am not out of the realm of Judge Manning's decision, but I did do what Judge Manning asked us to do."

And while she can't predict what Judge Manning will decide in the coming weeks, Ms. Burden said, "I just don't believe that you can close schools a month shy of opening. I feel that Goldsboro High School has a year to do even better when we have this year."

In the meantime, she and other principals of fledgling schools have been enrolled in a year-long leadership program for priority high schools. State officials are also keeping their earlier promise to support schools in need.

"From the beginning, DPI said they would put a plan in place," Taylor said.

Among the ideas already being implemented at the school are a Freshman Academy and enhanced professional development, he added.

Support from other sources is also welcome, Ms. Burden said.

"Since I have been principal, I have never denied assistance. I have asked for assistance when I could not get it, so that assistance went elsewhere," she said.

Ms. Burden said she has received support from the county office with many programs designed to improve Goldsboro High, and added that she is currently pursuing grant money that will allow her and the school's staff and students to continue their progress.

"There's no one that's going to be prouder and happier than the principal and the staff at Goldsboro High School, to be a school of progress moving forward rather than a school of priority," she said.

School board member Thelma Smith said she has seen firsthand the progress that has been made and added that she wishes she could attend the Aug. 18 hearing.

"I would certainly like to express my feelings. I do believe that what we have to present to him is going to be what we need to do in order to get Goldsboro High where it needs to be," Mrs. Smith said. "I believe we're almost there with the things that have been put in place for the coming school year. There's no way we can miss it."