09/05/10 — GHS's new attitude

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GHS's new attitude

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on September 5, 2010 1:50 AM

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Goldsboro High School freshmen Teiarra Maynov, right, and Benjamin Cox, along with other members of the Class of 2014, sign a banner dedicating themselves to graduating from high school in four years. Goldsboro has 185 ninth-graders this year. Principal John Twitty hopes the visual reminder will be effective in raising graduation rates at the school.

Principal John Twitty wants community members, parents and students to know that something is different at Goldsboro High School.

It is a change in attitude, he says, and a determination that this school year and beyond will bring more graduations and more success stories.

"You may have noticed the halls are clear; students are in class," Twitty said Wednesday, the sixth day of classes. "Students have a different mindset -- the climate has changed, they're getting to class, they're asking questions."

The new principal makes it a point to visit classrooms each morning, where he said students are actively involved and teachers are doing a good job of engaging students and focusing on curriculum.

The key is expectations, he said.

"If you expect good things, good things will happen," Twitty said. "I have had an assembly for each grade level during what I call the ninth block (and I) informed them of my expectations for them to be good students. They're buying into that."

"We could not ask for a better transition from last year into this year."

Twitty arrived at the school in November 2009, when he was named principal for administration as part of a "shared principal concept" to assist then-principal Patricia Burden. Criteria for The School Improvement Grant called for recipients to replace principals who had been at the school for more than two years.

When it was announced in the spring that the district would receive $2.9 million in federal funding to be used over the next three years as part of The School Improvement Grant program, criteria for the grant required recipients to replace principals who had been at the school for more than two years. As a result, Ms. Burden was reassigned to Wayne High School Academy. Twitty remained the sole administrator and became Goldsboro High's new leader.

The amount was less than anticipated -- the original application was for $6 million -- but it still targets graduation rates, enhancing staff development and providing summer school.

Twenty-five schools in 19 school districts will share the more than $65.4 million funding. Goldsboro High is one of 18 schools that will implement the Transformation Model.

As part of that change, coaches have been hired in math and science and English and language arts, as well as a design coach as part of America's Choice, the school improvement model the school has had for three years.

Other changes included having teachers return to the classroom nine days earlier than their counterparts across the district, starting on Aug. 9. For students, the school day will be extended by a half-hour.

Twitty said he could tell from the start it is going to be a successful year.

It helped that he was able to fill every vacancy at the school, particularly teaching positions.

"That was a goal of mine, to assure that every classroom teacher was highly qualified, but especially highly effective," he said. "We'll do whatever is necessary to make sure these kids reach the level of what we expect them to do."

The extra time prior to the start of school allows teachers to better prepare for the return of students, Twitty said.

"We pulled student rosters. We looked at them, had academic counselors assess them based on data from previous testing years (so we could) get them in the right class with the right teacher," he said. "We used EVAAS -- Education Value Added Assessment System -- which looks at a long range of data from third grade, when students begin testing, and it can predict whether or not a student will be successful in class.

"It gives us an idea of how to reach a kid that doesn't follow a certain percentage level, make sure we target those below the 50 percentile."

Now that classes have resumed, Twitty said, staff members are continuing to line up help for students who need remediation, concentrating first on seniors and then by grade level.

Although only a week has passed in the new school year, Twitty said he could not be more pleased with the direction the school is going.

But it actually started before classes resumed, he said.

"One of the things that was sort of a shocker, also, was when we had open house, we had more parents to come out here," he said. "Not that I was out here last year, but according to my staff, there were more parents to come here this year than ever.

"Also, since we had ninth-grade orientation separated from open house, we had many parents at the time to participate."

Even with the upper grades, the dynamic has changed, Twitty said.

"I have had one young lady, she's a senior, who came to me and wanted to start a peer mentoring program," he said.

The more everyone does his part for improving the school, the more time the principal will have to devote to his administrative duties.

So far, he said, that's happening.

"I have given them my vision, told them what I want and they're getting the job done," he said of the staff.

Others have also noticed the shift at the school.

Nicki Artis, a resource officer there since 2004, said it's been one of the best fall starts he can recall.

"We're fully staffed, and the kids are responding well -- no incidents at all. We haven't had one incident since school started. Our staff here, they're energetic, they're ready to work and they're fired up about this year. Everybody's on board. Everybody's looking for a good year."

With 185 freshmen enrolled, and graduation rates still in need of improvement, Twitty said there will be a stronger emphasis on directing them toward getting their diplomas in the next four years.

Freshman orientation, introduced this year, and freshman academy are just two efforts geared toward the ninth-graders.

It seems to be paying off.

Freshman Andrea Bizzell said she is actually excited about high school.

"I am ready to come to school in the morning," she said. "It's fun. We have got more freedom."

Classmate Lavonta Hayes said she likes her teachers -- and math class.

"Classes are smaller and I like the small classes," she said.

Ashlynn Romero said she likes high school better than middle school, while Duane Mills said he likes "almost everything" about it.

"I thought it was gonna be hard," he said. "I thought seniors were gonna be dissing us every day."

"I made friends with a couple seniors," Andrea added.

Paula Boldt -- a math and science coach who had worked in middle schools for the past 18 years -- was also pleasantly surprised with what she found at Goldsboro High School.

"I have seen that the kids are really excited about being at school," she said. "They're working hard in class, they're being mannerly. They're participating.

"It wasn't what I was expecting high school to be. You tell them to tuck in their shirt tail, they say, 'Yes, ma'am.'"

Twitty wants the trend to continue.

At an assembly Thursday afternoon for the freshmen, he challenged them to complete their high school education in four years.

"Are you committed to graduating in 2014? Anybody that doesn't want to graduate in 2014?" he asked, straining to hear an unexpected response. "What, you want to graduate early?"

Displaying a large banner on the auditorium stage, Twitty invited them all to sign the canvas, demonstrating their commitment to finishing high school with a diploma in hand.

"We will hang it outside," he told them. "We want everybody who comes here to see it."