09/07/06 — Students, parents share views with state board

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Students, parents share views with state board

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on September 7, 2006 1:53 PM

Goldsboro High School students and parents told visting members of the N.C. Board of Education Wednesday that for their school to succeed, they need more support and resources.

Local and state educators met with parents, students and community members during an evening session to discuss ways to help Goldsboro High, which is one of 17 schools labeled "low-performing" by state officials.

Administrators at the schools have been warned by Superior Court Judge Howard Manning that if they do not improve their performance on test scores, staff could be changed or the schools could be closed.

Two sessions were held Wednesday at the high school. An informational afternoon session for educators and local officials turned into more of a rally when the group reconvened that evening for the public forum.

Parent James Smith, president of the Goldsboro High booster club, said facilities at Goldsboro are lacking compared to other schools in the county. He asked that more money be put into the schools.

State Superintendent Dr. June Atkinson said that responsibility typically falls to a local board, such as the county commissioners.

"I think at every school, we probably have some improvements that could be made," Wayne County Superintendent Dr. Steve Taylor said. "I would disagree that the facilities here are lacking."

"It's a vast difference," Smith said. "They make do with what they have, but when it comes to waiting and receiving things ... we're the last on the totem pole."

Sprunt Hill, assistant superintendent for auxiliary services, said the school system has already done a lot at the school -- replacing chillers and the floor in the main building, upgrading the football field, air conditioning the gym -- and "there's still a lot we would love to do."'

Both he and Taylor referred to the school board's $90 million facilities plan, which includes improvements at the high school but has not received approval from the county commission.

Sen. Howard Lee, chairman of the state Board of Education, said the state is providing additional resources through the lottery. And while the facilities upkeep is a local responsibility, he added that the state officials works to help where they can.

"What we are most concerned about here is how we can keep good teachers here in this school to teach the kids," he said. "We need to give Principal (Patricia) Burden the resources she needs so she can prepare them to go on to college."

Goldsboro High junior Jonathan Sykes said his school does not get the support it deserves.

"We always hear about Goldsboro High School being in the newspaper, but it seems that we have little support behind us. We don't have community support. We don't have support from a lot of people. We need support to feel appreciated.

"We feel like, why try, because it seems like nobody likes us anyway, so why try? Without support, there's nothing."

Lee responded, "We are supporting you. That's why the state board is here.

"I guarantee you there's support coming from your state board, and I'm confident that we can identify that support from the local board as well."

Senior Burnie Best called it a "shame that the citizens ridicule us. Although we don't meet the requirements in the public's eyes, we're working hard to make sure that we meet the requirements for the test scores."

Best said a lot of students are going above and beyond what's expected.

"I feel that it's unfair to be criticized for what we're doing wrong ... (and being) categorized as incompetent individuals," he said.

John P. Grantham, chairman of the local school board, said he agreed with Best, adding that the school board was also "getting tired of hearing negative publicity" about the high school.

"We feel like Goldsboro High School is getting a bum rap in the press and from some of the officials in the county. It's time for it to stop," he said. "We need support from the community."

Bob Hawkins, a former teacher at Goldsboro High School, blasted the school and its leadership, citing statistics he said he has gathered in recent years.

Hawkins said that between 2002 and 2003, 13 teachers left the school, adding that last year only 54 percent of the teachers were certified and suggested that the average Goldsboro High School graduate -- not those in the top percentile -- went on to college but had to be placed in remedial classes.

"We do not have excellent teachers, and nobody can teach what they don't know," he said. "As long as the leadership is the same, you will not be able to receive excellent teachers coming back here to work under the same situation."

His comments evoked several responses from officials.

Thelma Smith, a school board member and a former teacher and counselor at Goldsboro High School, took issue with Hawkins' remarks, calling him an "angry man." At the same time, she said she knew what he was talking about "because I was here."

"But what he did not tell you was that these friends that he was talking about were not doing their job," she said. Mrs. Smith said she recalled teachers making breakfast in their classrooms and sitting in their offices with their feet propped up. She asked Hawkins to talk with her privately rather than air what she called "incorrect propaganda."

Mrs. Smith said Ms. Burden was hired to clean up the situation at the high school, which had a 30 percent passing rate when she was brought in.

"She has moved this school up from 30 percent to 54 percent," she said. "We the board stand behind Pat Burden, because she's doing what we want her to do.

Mrs. Smith said she was not angry, but rather excited, and intended to remain loyal to Ms. Burden. She chastised Hawkins for spreading negative information in the community and said she was "surprised at you because I thought as a former teacher you would have more compassion for this school and the teachers.

"You come here tonight and try to slam dunk these students at this school. Not as long as I'm here. I'm not going to let you do it."

Taylor also defended Ms. Burden, saying he named her principal the first year he was superintendent.

"She was the right person for the job then. She's the right person for the job now," he said. "Test scores reflect that. That's the very reason Judge Manning did not recommend that she be replaced."

Ms. Burden said she did not believe the 13 teachers had transferred to other schools. When she arrived, she said, several were slated for retirement, while others had relocated and some had gone to teach in Johnston County but are "working very diligently to get back here."

She later said about Hawkins, "Personally, he does not have to like me, but he needs to get the right data."

Dr. Atkinson encouraged the students in the audience to prove the naysayers wrong and to demonstrate "that you can achieve at very high levels."

She also challenged the public to support the students as they work to graduate from high school better prepared for the future.

"They need your support. I encourage you to listen to the students who said, 'We do not get support,'" she said. "I encourage you to work as a team on behalf of the students."

Lee called on everyone -- from the parents to the business community to the churches -- to get more involved in helping turn the school around.

"To carry out a plan to ensure that the students have access to the same resources as every other student in this county, as students in this state, it takes a whole community to make a school successful," he said. "It isn't going to be done if it's just one entity."