05/10/07 — School board's new mission targets student 'learning gap'

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School board's new mission targets student 'learning gap'

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on May 10, 2007 1:47 PM

Wayne County Public Schools will operate under an updated mission statement, while a task force has been formed to study closing the learning gap between students.

The Board of Education gave its stamp of approval to both earlier this week, and will also consider a request from the Board of Health to have the school system become 100 percent tobacco free.

Dr. Sandra McCullen, associate superintendent for curriculum and instruction, said the new vision, mission and beliefs have been revised to reflect the 21st Century learning goals of state board of education.

For years, the mission statement has been, "The Wayne County Public Schools educates all our children by providing a stimulating educational environment ensuring they are lifelong learners who are self-sufficient, productive citizens."The revamped version reads, "All Wayne County Public Schools students will graduate from high school globally competitive for work and postsecondary education prepared for life in the 21st century through rigor, relevance and relationships."

A new vision statement was also introduced: "Wayne County Public Schools provides an exemplary education for all students in a globally competitive 21st Century environment."

Raising achievement and closing gaps between students have been growing concerns. With more and more mandates and the pressures of test scores, educators are under the gun to provide equal opportunities in education.

Tommy's Road Elementary School was recognized earlier this school year for accomplishing that. Representatives from the state's Department of Public Instruction acknowledged efforts at the school, where the makeup of students is close to 50/50 black-to-white ratio.

Ensuring that similar results occur in all the public schools, Dr. McCullen announced at Monday night's school board meeting the formation of a group to study the issue. The Raising Achievement and Closing Gaps Task Force is expected to meet several times during the year and will advise the school board of its findings.

One of the charges of the task force, she said, is to identify and investigate the five socially and politically undesirable "root causes" that tend to contribute to the achievement gaps:

*The preparation and support of teachers as they assume today's demanding responsibilities that include teaching an increasingly diverse student population under the strain of stricter accountability measures.

*The underachieving student and his or her condition for learning.

*The role of home and community in facilitating and supporting high achievement.

*The influence of legislation and policy related to raising achievement and closing gaps.

*The participation of minority students in the instructional process.

Patsy Faison, principal at Tommy's Road, will chair the task force. Other members represent such factions of the community as teachers and administrators, a social worker, translator, legislator, community advocate and parents.

Promoting healthier students prompted Health Director James Roosen and Dr. Michael Gooden of the Board of Health to appear before the board with the request to consider making the school system 100 percent tobacco free.

At its April meeting, the Board of Health had shared concerns about tobacco use among youths.

"We discussed how important it is to make sure that kids are not exposed to tobacco," Roosen said, encouraging the school board to address the problem across the county.

"The majority of schools in North Carolina have already adopted" the 100 percent tobacco free policy, he noted. "Eighty-three school systems so far have passed tobacco free campuses."

"It's very striking to see Wayne County is in the minority of school systems that have not done this," Gooden said.

Roosen said the Health Department would provide assistance implementing such a plan locally.

The Board of Education does not typically take immediate action to requests brought before them. Response or action is usually done at a subsequent meeting.