01/21/09 — James Kenan High improves test scores

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James Kenan High improves test scores

By Bonnie Edwards
Published in News on January 21, 2009 1:46 PM

WARSAW -- After receiving help from two school improvement experts last year, James Kenan has been recognized by the governor's Turn-Around School List.

The school qualified for the distinction when 8 percent more of its student body -- 46.6 percent, up from 38.5 percent -- performed at grade level during the 2007-08 school year, making it one of 54 low-performing schools that was recently recognized for their improvements.

Helping the school reach that level was a state-approved program known as Talent Development -- a program that James Kenan's new principal Charlie Blanchard has experience using.

After he retired as principal at Wallace-Rose Hill, he spent several years traveling across the state helping high schools by using Talent Development.

Talent Development helps a school set up a Freshman Academy for those who come from the middle schools performing below grade level. There also are preparation courses to get students ready to take the specific courses that have the End of Course Test.

"Last year, we started some of them. This year, we're using all of them," he said.

Talent Development has proven to be helpful, he said, because it gives the students a sense of identity.

"It helps them feel like they belong to something."

After traveling with Talent Development, Blanchard returned to Duplin as the school system's high schools director.

Last year, he worked three days a week with Vickie Booker, the principal at James Kenan. Together, they hired 26 new teachers to work on the 40-teacher staff, giving them each an $8,000 incentive.

"That's the only way you can find them. If you want good people, you usually have to shell out good money to get them. There are hundreds of models out there. Talent Development is one. But nothing works if you don't have good teachers," he said.

The school system is still offering the teacher incentive, but James Kenan has little turnover now.

The next step was to establish good leadership among staff and students, and Blanchard formed a Student Government Association and helped several clubs get a start.

Then in June, after Ms. Booker went to another school system, Blanchard returned to working as a principal.

He credited the work done by Ms. Booker for making the transition easy.

"All we talk about here is teaching and learning. If I had come in this year without that, it would have slowed me down," Blanchard said.

He added that he feels good about the results of his students' mid-term exams earlier this month.

"We have already seen remarkable improvements, nothing that can be publicized, but I can say we feel good about where we are at mid-term," he said. "We will analyze the results and make adjustments the second half of the year. The goal this year is to be at or above 60 percent proficiency."