12/28/06 — Duplin schools aim for higher scores

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Duplin schools aim for higher scores

By Matthew Whittle
Published in News on December 28, 2006 1:45 PM

Many Duplin County schools fell short of state and federal standards last year, but officials aren't panicking. Instead they're turning toward the plans they have in place and they expect things to improve.

For the 2005-06 school year, only four schools -- E.E. Smith Middle, East Duplin High, James Kenan High and Wallace-Rose Hill High - met their expected growth under the North Carolina ABCs of Public Education standards. Only five -- East Duplin High, Kenansville Elementary, North Duplin Jr. Sr. High, Wallace Elementary and Wallace-Rose Hill High -- met federal No Child Left Behind AYP standards.

Throughout the district, those students most often falling behind are in the Hispanic, black, limited English proficient, free and reduced lunch or students with disabilities subgroups.

Bringing those students back up to grade-level proficiency is the district's goal and responsibility.

To do so, each school has its own individualized three-year plan in place.

Updates are written every year in the summer. This year, the revised plans were approved by the county Board of Education in November.

"Most of those are different. They're based on the different student performance data for each school," associate superintendent Dr. Randall Shaver said.

Those plans, he explained, specify what steps each school is going to take to help bring all of their students up to grade level. They are meant to be working documents that teachers, administrators and even parents and students can refer to regularly.

"Our plan is to get them posted online," Shaver said. "I'd like to do that either on the individual school Web sites or on the school system Web site."

But, he continued, just because the plans weren't completed until November, that doesn't mean the school system has been waiting to begin improving its test scores.

Across the district, afterschool tutoring sessions and evening classes are among the most popular remedial tools. In all cases, school transportation is available.

One such program, which will begin with the second semester, is Wallace-Rose Hill High School's twilight school.

Scheduled from 5 to 8 p.m., the twilight school will give students the opportunity to attend evening classes to make up courses they have failed. It also could provide students who have dropped out the opportunity to recapture their lost credits and earn a high school diploma.

"Wallace and James Kenan will have priority because they are our two lowest performing high schools academically," Shaver said.

Other students will be admitted to the program as space allows.

Similarly, Warsaw Middle will be implementing a Saturday academy when the new semester begins. It will meet either every Saturday or every other Saturday.

"It will be specifically for remedial purposes," Shaver said. "I'm pretty excited about it. They're going to take a fun approach -- a little more creative approach, a much more active approach as compared to the sit-and-get approach."

Such afterschool programs, Shaver said, are not new ideas. They've been proven to work in the past.

"They're extending the school year by extending the school day to those who need it," he said. "It's an old idea that's new again. You don't have to reinvent the wheel every year, but you do tighten the spokes."

Also beginning with the second semester is a program called NovaNet.

NovaNet is a computer-based program containing about 300 different high school courses. It will be used, Shaver said, primarily for remedial purposes, but will be available to students looking for advanced credits. It also will be used to help students in danger of failing because of too many absences -- one of the primary causes of student dropouts.

"We think it's going to be key in keeping students in school. This will allow them to make up seat time and make up assignments to recapture credits," he said.

Not all their efforts, however, are remedial.

School officials also want to bring parents and community leaders into the process.

"It's a joint effort," Shaver said. "It takes the school, the kids, the parents and the community and we're not going to be successful until we have equal buy-in from all four."

But most important, he continued, they have to raise their expectations.

"One of the best things we can do is increase the rigor, but increasing rigor does not mean we just give them more work," Shaver said. "We have to increase the level of expectations of what we want them to learn and give them more responsibility for that learning.

"We need to teach up and expect more of students. The bar has to be set higher for every student. When we do that, we'll see that gap close."