08/10/09 — Burden has hopes for grad coach

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Burden has hopes for grad coach

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on August 10, 2009 1:46 PM

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Patricia Burden

Does Goldsboro High School have a problem with test scores and graduation rates? Absolutely.

But Principal Patricia Burden refuses to give up the fight, or hope that ongoing efforts and the possibility that hiring a graduation coach will be part of the solution.

For the past two years the school has been part of America's Choice -- a national graduation reform initiative -- and while it is too soon to measure outcomes, Ms. Burden says firmly that the school, and the school system, are not resting on their laurels.

"It's not like our district is not doing anything for us," she said last week. So, on the threshold of anticipated budget cuts to education in the coming school year, she said she was disappointed that the Goldsboro City Council council balked at helping hire a graduation coach.

"It was a community effort to go to community agencies to support this project," Ms. Burden said. "I'm not even sure if our (school) board is totally aware of it."

During a presentation before city council, Wayne County Development Alliance existing industry specialist Mike Haney, Family Y executive director John Richards and Sudie Davis, executive director of Communities in Schools, pitched the idea to shore up plummeting graduation rates at GHS -- 47.7 percent this past year.

The discussion turned to school officials, with Mayor Pro Tem Chuck Allen's suggestion that the presenters came to the "wrong board." He then hinted that the school board has "got more money than any of us."

The story appeared in the News-Argus the next day, the same day the state announced proposed $350 million cuts to education.

The contrast underlined the need, said Mrs. Davis, who has applied for the graduation coach grant for nearly four years.

So when the Wayne County Board of Commissioners gave its stamp of approval to the plan, offering up the needed $29,000 in-kind match -- along with a challenge to the city council to do the same -- Mrs. Davis and Ms. Burden were ecstatic.

"I was very appreciative of the county making the decision that they made to support this program and the idea of this program," Ms. Burden said.

The two women have been monitoring the progress of obtaining such a grant and have discovered the efforts that have been "very, very successful in Georgia" will work in Wayne County.

"When she told me about the proposal, I was really excited," Ms. Burden said. "She has been working on this and keeping me informed all along. We knew this was an area of concern and we have been trying to address it."

She praised Mrs. Davis for obtaining the grant and introducing it to the district.

"It's a community agency trying to do something for the community and I see that as a good thing," she said. "People don't understand the dropout rate and what it encompasses. Our graduation rate was not good. I cannot deny that.

"I'm willing to receive any help that I can receive, whether it's within the district itself or from within the community itself."

Ms. Burden attributes part of the problem to the method used to determine dropout rates. The rate, she said, is derived from a tracking system that starts with the number of freshmen students and measures how many of those same students graduate from the school four years later. It does not take into account students who transfer to a high school program at Wayne Community College, for example, or cannot be located after leaving the school.

To place entire blame on the school district is wrong, she says, especially when the school board and school officials are doing many things to improve the situation.

"That is my strongest concern, that the school district cannot do this alone," she said. "It's not a school or a school district problem. I'm not trying to blame anyone but it starts from home. It starts from family situations, from community situations. So if a community group has offered to assist us and they want to go to any community agency, I feel that they should have a right to do that.

"People can either help or not help but it should not be, 'Let's see what the Board of Education is doing' because the Board of Education is doing what it can."

Ms. Burden said she is "excited" about the prospect of having a graduation coach at the high school as early as this fall.

"I could see a graduation coach coming in right now looking at our senior class. We want to look at those students who are not on track for graduation, meaning that they might be at the end of June, one credit short," she said.

A hands-on approach would be taken, whether by providing an online course or another option to assist the student. A graduation coach could also work with the dropout prevention coordinator, helping students at home who don't feel like they have a chance of graduating, setting up a plan of action for them to graduate on time, Ms. Burden said.

"If you look at a freshman coming in, that person would be obtaining data. You would be catching those students who would be in trouble of meeting graduation standards, immediately," she said. "I think there are resources that we have here and that person could make sure that the students use those resources."

Typically, such a program would not initially start with seniors but since that is the closest group of potential graduates, the need is there, Ms. Burden said.

"We have already identified some seniors that we could work with. I would like for us to look at this senior class and the data we have already developed. Then move to the junior level, freshman and sophomore," she said.

Hiring someone specifically for this purpose would allow more focus on all the elements contributing to the dropout problem -- from the home situation and its effects on attendance problems to learning difficulties.

"I do think when you have a person responsible for it, working not with 200 students but with 10 or 20 students, that we have a better chance of monitoring those students continuously," she said.