Schools' success coaches set sights on graduations
By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on September 22, 2013 1:50 AM
One of the biggest aspects of a success coach's job is giving time to a student.
Sometimes even 15 minutes can make a difference, said Mary Kay James, a retired principal who recently took over the reins as success coach at Mount Olive Middle School.
One of her favorite tenets in the program, sponsored by Communities in Schools, calls for establishing a relationship "one-on-one with a caring adult."
"People just don't know that children don't have that," she said.
"Time is a valuable resource for many of our children," CIS executive director Selena Bennett said. "We're an additional layer of support.
"The children that we work with, sometimes your neediest child is not the one that's causing behavior problems in the classroom. It may not be a child that's failing academically. It may be that child that needs an extra push or that extra relationship to help them see that there are options for them."
The graduation coach concept began at Goldsboro High School in 2009 and later at Southern Wayne High School before expanding to the middle school level last year, with success coaches added at Grantham, Brogden, Mount Olive and Spring Creek. This past school year, the program served 4,045 students, working one-on-one with approximately 300 of them.
The results from those 300 were impressive, Mrs. Bennett said -- 100 percent of them stayed in school, 100 percent of the seniors in the group graduated, 92 percent met behavior goals, 88 percent were promoted and 77 met attendance goals.
Students come to the program through referrals -- from teachers, parents or themselves -- and can be there for varying reasons, from attendance, academic struggles, behavior or suspension issues. But to remain in the program, goals are set for improvement.
It is probably no accident that the seven success coaches are retired educators or principals, said Veda McNair, success coach at Spring Creek.
"I think it helps the schools as a whole in terms of the climate of caring and support," she said. The retiree, whose last position was as principal at Eastern Wayne Elementary School, said the role of "advocate" also incorporates "another set of eyes" to assist existing staff at their respective schools.
That sums it up, Mrs. Bennett said, with the success coaches supporting not only the student, but teachers and social workers and guidance counselors.
"We're another advocate, and that's the role that we're working very hard to continue to establish as we go into another year of the program," she said.
Barbara Wilkins, graduation coach at Goldsboro High School, can still recall the early days when she was the sole hire in the program.
"One of the students came to me and said, 'When good teachers come to our school, they don't stay with us long. I don't blame them if they can find a better school to go to,'" she said.
She said she has seen the turnover, but in contrast has appreciated being one of those who stayed and been able to hear students pleasantly surprised as they greet her with, "You're back" at the beginning of a school year.
"I think the bottom line, they know if you care," she said. "They sense it immediately. I don't think your color matters in any situation. I think they know it immediately."
For the newer coaches, last year was about establishing their place in the schools and building trusting relationships, said Celia James, assigned to Grantham School.
Gene Jackson, who shares the role at Southern Wayne with Sharon Patterson, said he wanted to make sure parents were aware of the service at the school.
"At open house, I grabbed parents and pulled them over to the CIS table," he said. "One of the things I will be doing in the next week is going down to the cafeteria, the same thing, except we'll grab students.
"It's hard at the high school level, because every second of the day is delegated for something."
A recent weeklong training at the state level fortified the group. Jackson and Elvira Carreno, success coach at Brogden Middle, said the sessions infused them with more confidence as they start a new school year.
And others admitted the job has rewarded them in unexpected ways.
"I tell people, it's been the best job I ever had," Mrs. Wilkins said. "There are a lot of holes that we need to fill. I see many of us as the glue that makes things happen ... I feel like I'm their coach and their cheerleader."
"I think if we look back on our careers, all of us went (into education) because we wanted to help somebody," Mrs. James said. "All of us went through 30-some years to do what we really wanted to do."