Duplin school superintendent gives board new direction
By Catharin Shepard
Published in News on November 28, 2010 1:50 AM
KENANSVILLE -- The Duplin County Board of Education said farewell to a 20-year veteran board member Tuesday, and learned of Superintendent Dr. Austin Obasohan's recommendations for the school system's future.
Board member Emily Manning, first elected to the board in 1989, chose not to run for re-election this year. She thanked the board and the public for the "honor and privilege" of serving the school community.
Although the board members have frequently disagreed, "we always come back, because we know what our mission is," she said.
That mission is and remains to make the schools of Duplin County better for the children, and even though she is leaving the board, Mrs. Manning plans to continue working with the school system as a mentor and volunteer.
"I've enjoyed it, I'm going to miss it," she said.
Obasohan later presented to board members his completed 90-day report on the school system, offering information about the strengths of Duplin schools, challenges to overcome and his own recommendations about how to proceed.
When Obasohan was first hired, the board authorized the superintendent to gather the information. After speaking with students, teachers, principals, central office staff, parents and members of the community, among others, Obasohan created a report of where the schools stand and what the school administration must do to promote education in the county.
Nearly 70 percent of the 9,040 Duplin County public school students are classified as economically distressed, according to end-of-year accountability data, and 8.8 percent of students in the school system have a documented disability, according to the report.
The majority of the system's certified teachers are not nationally certified, Obasohan reported, and providing opportunities for staff development and finding ways to attract and retain good teachers are one of the major goals the school board needs to focus on, he said.
"In the region, we are last in percent of teaching staff that are nationally board certified," Obasohan said. "That's something we need to really look at as we move forward."
Students' performance on the ABCs end-of-grade reading and math tests is encouraging, with the district scores improving at a pace similar to the state average, Obasohan said. However, the school district's graduation rate is uneven, and SAT scores are increasing slowly but are still below the state average.
Some of the county's biggest strengths are its committed teachers, staff and administrators -- a point that everyone he spoke with agreed on, Obasohan reported.
The county pre-kindergarten program, career technical programs, education partners, agriculture, leadership, James Sprunt Community College and technology and infrastructure also are some of the system's greatest strengths, he said.
One of the most important strengths is the strong and dedicated community support for Duplin students, Obasohan said.
"A lot of communities would die to have what we have in this community," he said.
But the school system does have its weaknesses, too, the superintendent said.
Closing the achievement gaps between groups of students -- and not only achievement gaps based on race, but among socio-economic groups -- is the top of the list of things for the system to work on. Reducing the dropout rate, addressing the school facility needs, addressing the needs of the English as a second language population, preparing the schools and staff for 21st century education needs and providing meaningful professional development are also issues that the board should focus on in the future, Obasohan said.
Providing competitive benefit packages for teachers and principals, strengthening relationships and trust and addressing overcrowding in schools were also on his list of things the county schools should work on.
Obasohan proposed nine goals, each with measurements and indicators, to improve Duplin County Schools. Student academic success, safe and nurturing schools, relevant professional development, 21st century facilities and technology, positive school and community partnerships, distinguished leaders, teachers and personnel, fiscal leadership, effective and efficient organizational structure and operations and fostering a continued school board and superintendent relationship are the things he hopes to address in the future.
The superintendent set forth dozens of ways to drive the improvement efforts through planning and data-based results, such as creating a system-wide staff development plan aligned to the system's strategic plan, establishing an atmosphere of shared vision, responsibility and accountability, aligning the K-12 curriculum with the new state common core standards and requesting the North Carolina School Board Association to review the school board's policy and procedures.
Obasohan also recommended developing a 10-year school facilities plan, a goal that is already ongoing, and a five-year technology plan, which is also underway.
The superintendent plans to work with the board to achieve three major data-based goals: Having all schools make adequate yearly progress, earn a high growth rating and be classified as schools of excellence.
The school system should also create a "triplet" agenda for its students of college readiness, career readiness and technology readiness/e-learning to help prepare them for the rest of their lives, Obasohan said.
The board members unanimously voted to accept and approve the report and recommendations.