Judge Manning says schools still need more work
By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on August 20, 2006 2:07 AM
RALEIGH -- Judge Howard Manning Jr. made no decision Friday on shaking up or closing Goldsboro High School or any of the other 16 schools on his performance watch list.
But that doesn't mean he is satisfied that Wayne County officials and school personnel have done everything they need to do to get test scores up -- or that he will stop watching anytime soon.
Manning has said many times before the hearing that if the schools on the list could not improve their student test scores, they could face complete administrative overhauls or closure.
The judge raised some questions Friday about Goldsboro's improvement plan, saying he thought efforts to put programs in place to assist students should have been made much earlier. But other than those comments, Goldsboro High did not draw any fire. No suggestion was made that the high school will not be opening this fall.
Hertford County was the only school system that was identified by the judge as in immediate need of assistance.
The bulk of the three-hour hearing in Wake County Superior Court featured a state official's report on actions being taken to shore up programs in each of the schools in question.
Dr. Pat Ashley, the state's director of high school improvement, said since being appointed to the post in February, she has regularly met with principals and officials in the school systems that made Manning's list for having test scores below 55 percent for the past four years. For the most part, she said each of the schools has developed plans and is ready to move forward in a positive direction.
Assessing Goldsboro High School's efforts, Dr. Ashley said, "I think it's a complete plan."
She added the school will implement a Freshman Academy this year and work to better-assist struggling students.
"They have all the components in place," she said. "They're going to be doing personal education plans for the students (who scored at 1 or 2 on end-of-course tests) and are also going to do personal education plans for at-risk students and students with an average of 76 or below."
The state will also provide leadership facilitators to Goldsboro and to other schools on the list. The instructional facilitators will be assigned to the schools for 36 days, during which time they will assess what is being taught and assist in developing engaging lessons for students.
When Manning asked about GHS principal Patricia Burden's background and whether she could be successful in the school with the state's help, Dr. Ashley replied, "Yes, sir. I believe she can."
The judge further questioned Dr. Ashley about the school district's level of commitment.
"This school needs a lot of help," he said.
Dr. Ashley said there is concern about the stability of the leadership team, referring to a turnover in assistant principals. There are, however, ongoing efforts to shore that up, she added.
"What are they going to do for the future? What structural systemic changes are they planning to start working on now?" Manning asked.
Dr. Ashley said that while a specific model has not been chosen, there have been preliminary conversations with the New Schools Project, affiliated with the Gates Foundation. When Dr. Tony Habit briefly took the stand during Friday's hearing, he named Goldsboro among the schools that had inquired about the project, designed to turn around struggling schools.
"What's amazing to me is that they have had six months knowing this was coming. Why they haven't gotten off their backsides and started planning ahead is beyond my comprehension," Manning said. "Why would they call Tony in August?
"Here they are on the brink of opening schools, and they're just beginning to wake up to the assets that they have out there. It's beyond my comprehension that they haven't gotten started working on it this year so it would go full throttle."
Steering clear of his earlier pronouncements about removing principals from office or closing schools, Manning focused more on what was being done to implement changes expeditiously.
"It's got to be done right now. We can't wait another year to start academic improvement. What's going on to make sure that we're getting the changes that you and I both know have to be done?" he asked Dr. Ashley.
While he is interested in programs, Manning said it is even more essential that they be in place.
"We don't want to lose any more time because it takes time to plan. We can't wait for them to take another year. It's not what the governor wants. It's not what I want," he said.
"Whatever you pick that we know works somewhere else, if you don't implement it and get 100 percent of your faculty and the community behind it ... then you're wasting your time if you don't have the leadership in that school."
He charged school personnel and others with generating that excitement.
"Get your faculty on board. Get your students performing better, parents and the community behind it. You have got to sustain it ... have people throw their hearts into the program."
Overall, Manning seemed pleased with the efforts that have been made since he directed the low-performing schools to make necessary improvements.
Many of the schools will open with freshmen academies, designed to help ninth-graders transition to the rigors of high school, as well as other programs to shore up test scores. Most also have plans in place to provide extra help for students in content subject areas, particularly reading and math.
Hertford County High School, however, drew the most attention, prompting the judge to call for immediate intervention from the state. The school's principal was only recently appointed, Dr. Ashley said, and the judge deemed the school's plan for improving student achievement inadequate.
"This school has a 41.3 (percent) composite. If you go with the last two years' scores and adjustments, they're at 46," Manning said. "Just sending somebody in there for 36 days is not satisfactory. You can't do it.
"Somebody's going to have to be contracted ... to go in there and ride herd. It's not Hertford County's responsibility now. It's the state's responsibility."
The judge gave no indication when he would make a ruling on the fate of the schools, but did note, "You're not safe until those scores come up."
"I'm going to look at it. I can't absorb it all today," he said at the hearing's conclusion.
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