07/25/10 — Project Turnaround

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Project Turnaround

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on July 25, 2010 1:50 AM

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Troy Herring

New Goldsboro High School principal John Twitty has set his sights not only on improving graduation rates at his school, but helping his students -- and the community -- realize their potential for success.

When people talk about Goldsboro High School, it doesn't bother John Twitty.

It just makes him want to work harder.

Twitty, a 26-year military veteran who was principal at Belfast Academy and Wayne High School Academy before being named principal for administration at Goldsboro High School last November, will take over duties as sole administrator at the school this fall.

The "shared principal concept" to assist Patricia Burden, then-principal at GHS since 2000, was put into place in anticipation of federal grant money for the district. Criteria for The School Improvement Grant called for recipients to replace principals who had been at the school for more than two years.

At the end of the school year, Ms. Burden was reassigned to the post formerly held by Twitty at Wayne High School Academy. The district, meanwhile, was awarded $2.9 million in federal funding over the next three years.

Arriving at the school six months earlier proved beneficial, Twitty said.

"I was able to get a good look at what needed to be done from an administration point of view, ensuring that kids were in the right classes," he said. "I looked over every transcript, motivated them to do well and encouraged them on a daily basis."

The most glaring concern that greeted him at the outset, he says now, was the graduation rate. At the time, it was 44.7 percent.

"My job was to come in and see why (it was so low)," he said. "Of course, they hired a graduation coach, and she was working in conjunction with me."

One of the challenges from the start was the graduation project, which legislators voted to discontinue, but Wayne County decided would remain part of the graduation requirement.

Twitty dug in his heels, doing everything possible to see that students received a high school diploma.

"(I said) we're going to do this graduation project even if it takes until the last day of school, which it did -- on the very last day of school, I had three seniors present their projects in my office because it would not be fair (not to follow through)," he said.

The effort paid off. Students earlier targeted as "at-risk" for not receiving their diplomas crossed the stage with their classmates, and the graduation rate for the school rose by nine points, to 53.7 percent.

But there is still much to be done.

As a new school year looms, Twitty has been thinking about the next steps.

"I have already looked at their transcripts, made sure that they have the right classes," he said. "This year, if a kid is lacking a course, I have instituted a 'ninth block' every day, for those kids to catch up, Plato lab will be available -- we'll be calling it Freshman Focus/Cougar Enrichment -- graduation projects, club meetings, all of that will be done during that particular period."

As part of the Transformation Model grant, three coaches will be hired -- in math/science and English/language arts, as well as a design coach as part of America's Choice, the school improvement model that has been in place for three years.

He is also working hard to secure sufficient staffing for the coming year, most notably three math teachers and one counselor.

"I'm rigorously going out to job fair, (candidates) from Michigan," he said. "My plans are to have those particular people in place if not by the ninth of August, by the 20th. I'm diligently looking, I'm being proactive in what I do -- taking work home, scouring resumes, making phone calls. I want to fill these positions with highly effective teachers, if not highly qualified."

The principal says he is well aware of the school's perception problem, and admittedly had to overcome some of those preconceived notions when he arrived at Goldsboro High.

One of those was that Goldsboro High students "were rowdy."

"I found that to be untrue," Twitty said. "The kids are just like any other kids at any other school. I gave them some structure, and they adapted very well.

"The kids are just like any other kids. They're only going to do what you allow them to do. Giving them high expectations definitely helps a lot. Being student-friendly definitely helps."

Twitty has implemented several strategies, including getting to know the students.

"(I am) going to lunch with them, sitting down with them, talking about their plans, their goals," he said. "I tell them that I will do anything within my power to help them achieve their goals -- and first and foremost is to graduate from high school -- coming to school every day, coming on time."

The school has some unique problems, Twitty said, but they are ones shared by districts across the country.

Namely, being an inner city school with families facing a high rate of poverty.

So, beyond concentrating on academics, his aspirations include reaching students in a way that will help them be prepared for adulthood, become more "polished," he said.

"What I call the 'hidden curriculum' is based on a lot of things -- the simple 'yes, sir,' 'no, sirs,' manners, making eye contact, even to the simplest things of giving apologies," he said.

Goldsboro High School might also be introducing its own academies, much like its counterparts around the county have done. In recent years, for example, Charles B. Aycock High has added an engineering academy, while Southern Wayne launched construction and teacher academies.

"Eventually I want to put in -- and have already begun work on -- a teacher academy and cosmetology academy, hopefully as soon as the spring," Twitty said. "Hopefully, that's something that will keep kids in school. Cosmetology, I think, will be a good hook.

"I have already collaborated with Wayne Community College and Mitchell's (Hair Styling Academy) because it would not be on-site."

Keeping students engaged, which might mean offering options outside of the traditional high school and more in line with vocational training, might be one way to keep them in high school until graduation, he said.

Much like the Turnaround Model suggestions, Twitty said he wants to turn Goldsboro High School around.

"We want to give this school the status it deserves," he said.

It starts with changing the culture of the school.

Twitty said he discovered early on that reading skills were lagging.

To build upon the 25-book campaign already in place, he plans to have students choose a book, and each month, the entire school will read it.

He hopes in the process of making internal changes, some of the public perceptions about GHS might also change.

"People are going to think what they want, but what I would want people to know is that Goldsboro is upward-bound," he said. "The things that we're going to be doing here are going to change the atmosphere. It is not what everybody says it is.

"Being that we're in the city and have been in the news for quite some time, all of the things that people hear about are just untrue. ... We're a school like any other school. We have our problems just like any other school (but) we're actually doing some good things here."

Twitty is passionate about his role as principal, and the school's potential for success.

"I love coming to work, I enjoy coming to work every day," he said. "As an administrator, I can reach out to all the kids rather than a select few. I consider them all of my kids. I will do whatever I can to help them be successful."

If that could include parental and community support, so much the better.

"I want to get more parents involved," he said. "Everybody's going to have open house on the 23rd of August. I'm going to have freshman orientation. We're going to simulate a school day -- give them some guidance, things that will help them be successful in high school, introduce them to the staff.

"Throughout the year I want to encourage the parents to participate in their child's education and endeavors."

With the passage of time, more volunteers have been stepping forward to assist in the school and to serve as mentors.

That's something Twitty would like to see continue.

"It started last year at sports events. I took down the metal detectors, I felt it was a barrier," he said. "We had great turnouts during basketball, during football.

"I just want (people) to come out here. This is as safe an environment as any other school."