07/11/10 — Graduation rates to be subject of conference

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Graduation rates to be subject of conference

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on July 11, 2010 1:50 AM

The theme of an upcoming free education conference is simple and direct -- "Graduate Wayne County."

"We came up with the name because we felt like lots of families out there, that that's their only desire, is to have their child graduate," said Sudie Davis, director of Communities in Schools, one of the conference sponsors.

The one-day event will be held on Monday, Aug. 2, at Mount Olive College, and it targets the growing dropout problem in the county.

Presented by Communities in Schools, the County of Wayne, the Wayne County Public Schools, the county Chamber of Commerce, the Family YMCA and the state Cooperative Extension Service, the goal is to ultimately raise the county's high school graduation rate.

Keeping students in school is a community problem and will take the efforts of many to accomplish, said Dr. Sandra McCullen, associate superintendent for curriculum and instruction with Wayne County Public Schools and a member of the Wayne County Board of Commissioners.

"We're hoping this will raise awareness, not only for high school students but for students in kindergarten through 12th grade. The main thing is to make the community more knowledgeable and help them access resources for their own children."

The idea is an outgrowth of a statewide Communities in Schools graduation summer workshop held in late 2009, Mrs. McCullen said.

"A group of Wayne County people attended and came up with an action plan to bring back to (show) how we can improve the graduation rate in Wayne County," she said.

Mrs. Davis was part of that group and recalled two speakers who made an impression on her that day.

Dr. Shelley Stewart, who directs the Mattie C. Stewart Foundation for dropout prevention, watched his father kill his mother when he was a small child. He ran away from home soon after that because the environment was so horrible, she said.

"Just to hear his story and know that he had the resilience to continue his education and make something of himself was such a great opportunity for all of us there," Mrs. Davis said.

Cynthia Marshall, now president of AT&T in North Carolina, grew up in an equally challenging environment.

"She witnessed her father shooting a man when she was 11," Mrs. Davis said, explaining that the father left the family but Ms. Marshall's mother instilled the belief in her children that education was the key to improving their lives.

"To see what these people have done with their lives and to recognize that they had to put so much behind them to succeed is something that we need to bring back to our kids. To let them know that people are doing really wonderful things -- graduated from high school, graduated from college and moved on from there."

It's a message Mrs. Davis wants to get out to young people in Wayne County and she said she feels fortunate that the area already has some of the most important components in place.

"One of the things that we have that many counties don't have is this wonderful thing called collaboration and so many resources that work together," Mrs. Davis said. "We want to make this an event where people can garner knowledge about the resources here for children. ... We, at this point, do not think that we need to reinvent the wheel but we need to let people know what's already here."

The conference is free and open to the public. Registration can be done in advance, online at waynecountyschools.org, or the day of the event from 8:30-9 a.m.

The keynote address will be given by state Sen. Don Davis at 9:15 a.m.

At 10 a.m., high school students will present some of their graduation projects.

Panel discussions will follow at 10:30 on the topic, "What Does it Take to Graduate?" and feature two high school principals -- Dr. Earl Moore of Charles B. Aycock and Dean Sauls of Rosewood -- along with Spring Creek High counselors Michelle Cobb and Mark Loury.

For the afternoon session, from 12:30-2:15 p.m., breakout sessions will be led by community agencies and instructional personnel, talking about high school reform and some of the academies that have been introduced at area high schools.

Community agencies and organizations are also invited to participate in the conference, by setting up displays and distributing literature about their programs.