06/10/13 — Success coaches report progress

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Success coaches report progress

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on June 10, 2013 1:46 PM

Success coaches at area middle and high schools have lived up to their names, boasting a positive year for the pilot program and hoping that success will continue in the fall.

Selena Bennett, executive director of Communities in Schools, which expanded the program this year to four middle schools, told her board of directors Thursday there was much to celebrate.

"This has been a phenomenal year," she said. "I cannot say enough about what the principals of these schools have shared with me."

She said administrators at each of the sites praised the efforts of the success coaches, whose mission was to work with students at risk of dropping out or with a history of retention problems, low end-of-grade test scores or problems with attendance.

In 2009, the graduation coach concept was introduced at Goldsboro High School. It was later expanded to a similar position at Southern Wayne High School, but funding stalled the effort at that school last year.

This year, United Way and ABC funds allowed CIS to place coaches at Brogden, Grantham, Mount Olive and Spring Creek middle schools and Southern Wayne. Funding for the GHS program was received from Wayne County and the city of Goldsboro.

"It's been a heck of a year," said Bill Keel, president of the CIS board of directors. "We're going to do everything we can do to get the money to sustain it."

Gene Jackson, who spent the spring semester at Southern Wayne, suggested that every grade level -- elementary, middle and high school -- would benefit from having a success coach.

"We got a late start at Southern Wayne but I felt very positive when we finished up the year," he said.

Citing one of the program's roles -- "one-on-one with a caring adult" -- Jackson said many times that was the basis of his job.

"You just need someone to say to that student, 'This is what you need to do and I'm going to check up on you,' just to have someone to watch over them," he said. "That's such a big thing in what we do."

Jackson shared examples of two students he worked with that were particularly meaningful -- one with a history of skipping school who managed to successfully complete her graduation project and a young man with little family support he had taken under his wing and mentored.

Veda McNair, success coach at Spring Creek Middle, agreed that there were "so many success stories."

"Working with them all year, the thing that I noticed as the year went on was that the children were taking responsibility for their behavior and their grades," said the retired principal. "I think the thing that I have enjoyed most is the relationships that I built with these kids. That's what warms my heart, that the children are beginning to care.

"The bottom line is the child has to care. The parent can't do it alone. We're working with them, but if we instill a sense of caring, then I feel like we're doing our job."

The role of success coach extended beyond that of tutor and mentor, though, several said.

"I really feel like we're glorified counselors, doing a lot of things that counselors would do if they could," Mrs. McNair said. "They have so much testing, they cannot do the job they were hired to do."

Mary Ann Barwick, success coach at Mount Olive Middle School, suggested the need for a testing coordinator at the schools, which could free up counselors.

Additional volunteers and mentors would also be helpful.

"You don't have to spend a lot of time, 30 minutes to an hour, just to talk to (students), how's it going. They just want to be heard," Mrs. McNair said.

"The situation in the schools, they're just absolutely overwhelmed with people working, with testing, and that takes away the focus, which is those students," Jackson said. "We need to either look at that situation or bring in volunteers to help with that gap."

Mrs. Bennett reminded the board that Communities in Schools' role is one of support, so it is limited in some of its scope.

"What we try to do is come in and surround (the district) with support wherever those needs are -- how do you want us to help and what do you want us to do to assist?" she said. "We're not an agency that can go in and say you need to do this or you need to change this."