07/30/12 — Coaches to target earlier success

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Coaches to target earlier success

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on July 30, 2012 1:46 PM

Wayne County Public Schools will continue its graduation coach concept, but with a new name -- success coaches.

The name change is part of a revamp as Communities in Schools, which oversees the program, expands the service while it tries to change its image a bit.

"Graduation coach implies you're sending somebody in there at the ninth hour and trying to salvage them to be able to graduate," said Selena Bennett, executive director of Communities in Schools. "The whole idea is to catch these kids who are at-risk of dropping out or failing so that we can catch them at an earlier age and get them to be successful at the high school level."

When the program was initially introduced at Goldsboro High School in 2009, the school reported a graduation rate of about 50 percent.

Barbara Wilkins, a retired educator and administrator hired as graduation coach there, worked primarily with a group of seniors who would benefit from the extra push to receive their high school diploma.

But, she said, students in other grades could also have benefited from her time, and it became readily apparent that there was a need for similar programs starting in the younger grades, particularly middle school.

A second graduation coach was hired in the county, at Southern Wayne High School, in 2010.

Graduation rates at both schools subsequently rose -- to 69 percent at GHS, and from 60-66 percent to 74 percent at Southern Wayne.

The Goldsboro High program continues to be funded by the county and has received some support from the city. It has also been the beneficiary of federal money.

A $100,000 contribution recently came through from the Wayne County ABC Board, announced at the July 12 meeting of the county commission and expected to be made official in August.

The unanticipated financial boost came as good news, said Mrs. Bennett, who took over the reins of the program in October.

"It's a great opportunity for us to expand our services into more schools. It's also a great opportunity for us to be able to work with kids and catch them at an earlier age," she said.

She is now in the process of advertising for new coaches.

"We'll hire five part-time success coaches," she said. "The way that's going to work is that we're going to put two as a team at Southern Wayne -- we're utilizing a team approach and following a model that they have been using in New Hanover County.

"We're trying to rev up services in the southern end of the county, so we'll have two at Southern Wayne, part-time, and at Mount Olive, Brogden and Grantham middle schools."

All three of those schools feed into Southern Wayne, she pointed out.

"We have seen successes by putting the extra personnel in there so we thought, 'What would happen if we put somebody in each of the schools -- start the focus at the middle school level?'" she said. "We want to reach down into the middle school level and see what we can do to increase our services at that level and track it from the middle school up to the high school."

The goal is to have the positions filled in time for them to undergo training at the state office and be ready soon after Labor Day, Mrs. Bennett said.

"I want to be sure that we're all kind of on the same page," she said. "They're going to help with the transition of middle school students.

"They'll work with students at risk of dropping out, with a history of school failure or retention, low EOG (End of Grade) scores, that have possibly had problems with attendance, a history of suspensions or behavior problems or maybe due to their family status."

Advertising for the positions will be done through the school system, Seymour Johnson Air Force Base and The News-Argus.

"Anyone interested in an application, contact me at the office and I would be glad to give them further information," Mrs. Bennett said. "I'm looking for somebody that has a passion for working with children. A four-year degree is preferred, with experience working with children."

There will be extensive training involved for the job, she said, and a background check will be conducted.

Currently, the funding is only for a year, but she is optimistic about the future.

"This is a pilot program, this is a one-time shot as far as this money goes. We certainly hope that we'll be able to continue it next year but right now we know that we will be put under the radar this year."