01/15/09 — Goldsboro High School makes strides

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Goldsboro High School makes strides

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on January 15, 2009 1:46 PM

It's been nearly three years since Judge Howard Manning threatened to close Goldsboro High School, sparking local debate and sending officials scrambling to keep the doors open.

Then-Gov. Mike Easley even stepped in, naming it one of 66 high schools to receive resources, training and support from the N.C. Department of Public Instruction as part of his High School Turnaround Initiative.

As one of his last acts before recently leaving office, Easley praised 54 of those schools for improving student achievement and graduation rates during 2007-08.

Goldsboro High School made the cut -- with a nearly 10-point increase to its number of students at or above proficiency level on end-of-course tests. The performance composite for 2007-08 was 52.6 percent, up from 42.9 percent for the previous year.

Local officials are relieved, but not satisfied -- the efforts to get here will continue, they say.

"The scores were better and improved very dramatically," said Dr. Craig McFadden, assistant superintendent for accountability/student services. "Scores still aren't where we want them to be but to have a 9.65 point gain in one year is a fairly dramatic increase."

The turnaround can be largely credited to America's Choice, a national school reform model introduced at the school in 2006.

"America's Choice is the design that we chose for Goldsboro High based on research in conjunction with DPI," said Dr. Sandra McCullen, associate superintendent for curriculum and instruction. "It focuses on building professional learning communities and engaging parents (and) one of the biggest parts is the staff development and on-site coaching."

The model emphasizes literacy and math, with ongoing student assessments an important component in the "personalized education" approach, she said.

It's a new way of educating, said Patricia Burden, GHS principal.

"Students learn to do the work -- not just reading something and answering questions," she said. "They have to go in and apply themselves and explain how they got that answer."

Teaching methods are part of the shift, she added.

"In the navigation program for literacy and math, we tested students and found their areas of misconception," she said. "We identified their areas of weakness. Once you clear up the misconception, the students can solve the problems or get the answers to the question."

Under the America's Choice design, the school was divided into smaller segments -- a school-within-a-school.

Freshman and sophomore academies were set up, following a team format where students and teachers remain together throughout the year to develop closer relationships and be able to monitor and track progress.

Accelerated classes were also added for additional skill-building in reading and math. And other academies are being proposed for the upper grades to continue the process.

But a large part of the emphasis comes through staff development, which the district has also provided.

"Teachers have been involved in training on research-based strategies to be used in the classroom to engage the students more in the learning process, so students have become the workers and facilitated the process," Ms. Burden said.

"The teachers are doing wonderful lessons and preparation," added Dr. McCullen. "They're working together as a team. They really have a lot of pride in what they're doing."

Ms. Burden also praised her staff because in addition to their regular duties, the past three years have meant additional work training and implementing procedures at the school.

While a variety of initiatives have been introduced -- such as the "25-book campaign" this year to encourage students to read more -- it goes beyond the instructional program, Dr. McCullen said.

"It's the way the school's set up -- it's the expectation, particularly to help student achievement," she said.

But this is only the beginning, says the school's principal.

"This is not a process that you do and put aside once you reach the point where they want us to be," she said. "It's ongoing -- my staff can do the training, we have lab classrooms, ongoing (things) through this model."

Admittedly, America's Choice has helped put things in place, Ms. Burden said, while establishing a focus and pointing the school in the right direction.

"The students are capable," she said. "Students realize they can do it and they can be successful, they can score the levels 3 and 4 (on tests). With the teachers, it has given them additional strategies and activities to build on within their classrooms."

While happy that her school is doing well, Ms. Burden said she still looks for continued improvement.

"I feel good about what we have done. I feel good about the direction we're taking," she said. "I see it as ongoing programs -- because we come off the list, that we won't stop -- there will always be new training for new teachers coming in, giving feedback to the teachers to make sure that we're doing the things that we need to do to help our children be successful.

"We have had high growth. Our test scores have improved, the growth that was expected plus 10 percent. We were always making expected growth. Then two years ago we fell back because they raised the bar."

School officials also take pride in the latest recognition.

"I was elated that Goldsboro High School is one of the schools across the state that has shown the most improvement," Dr. McCullen said. "We're seeing positive results and we're seeing enthusiasm from the parents, the staff and the students. It has been a lot of hard work as there is everywhere, but they have really stepped up to the plate and met the expectations."

As a postscript, she noted, the efforts have also drawn notice from leaders in the program itself.

"America's Choice consultants have been very complimentary" of what Goldsboro High has done, she said. "They (Goldsboro High) have been so successful with their implementation, they were invited to present at the national (America's Choice) conference but it was canceled because of the economy."