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Poor performance in Halifax schools prompts state response

Posted April 22, 2009

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— State education officials said Wednesday that they will undertake an aggressive program to boost student performance in Halifax County Schools.

The plan crafted by the State Board of Education and the Department of Public Instruction will be presented to Superior Court Judge Howard Manning on April 29, officials said. Manning has long overseen the academic performance of state schools after a ruling several years ago in a case that sought to get more state support for school districts in low-income and rural areas.

Last month, Manning cited poor end-of-grade reading test scores among Halifax County students in calling the situation "academic genocide."

More than 71 percent of the district's elementary school students aren't proficient in reading, and 74.3 percent of middle school students aren't proficient, according to state figures. At the high school level, about one-third of the students are considered proficient on end-of-course tests, compared with 68 percent statewide.

Under the intervention plan, DPI staff would provide intensive support and oversight to coach principals in effective instructional and school leadership, provide tools to help central office personnel better guide the school district and ensure that teachers get the necessary support and resources needed to improve student learning.

“This intervention is a partnership with Halifax County Schools, and one in which the state board and education department will guide professional development and create a supportive framework with one goal: improved student learning and achievement,” Bill Harrison, chairman and chief executive of the Board of Education, said in a statement.

Halifax Superintendent Geraldine Middleton is "receptive" to the plan, Harrison said.

Activities already have already begun in Halifax but will intensify this summer and in the 2009-10 school year, state officials said.

All principals and district administrators will receive three weeks of professional development, while teachers will get two weeks of professional development over the summer.

“Additional training for all of us is never a bad thing. It's always good. Because we're educators, and the more education you get the better you do,” Halifax County Schools spokesman Keith Hoggard said during a telephone interview Wednesday evening with WRAL News.

The school district will hire 12 full-time master educators to help classroom teachers improve instruction, and DPI will provide three school transformation coaches and a district transformation coach. The state also will consult with local officials on how best to use state and federal education money.

Harrison, Rebecca Garland, the state’s chief academic officer, and Pat Ashley, director of District and School Transformation, will work to ensure that the Halifax County Board of Education and administration is pursuing and implementing reforms.

“We are leveraging federal resources and other tools to help guide this district to new levels of student performance and achievement,” state Superintendent of Public Instruction June Atkinson said in a statement. “The purpose is to create a structure for success that will increase the district’s bottom line: student proficiency and graduation.”

“For the parents who are concerned about the quality of education in Halifax County Schools, I guarantee you, it will be better next year. And it will be better than that the year after that,” Hoggard said.

DPI has piloted a district transformation model for the last two years in six school districts, but the Halifax intervention will incorporate state education efforts more directly in the administration of the school district’s operations, officials said.

“My goal is to improve public schools and student performance," Gov. Beverly Perdue said in a statement. "Dr. Harrison, Superintendent Atkinson and I will act aggressively in Halifax County and all of North Carolina to make sure our schools have the support, direction and accountability that give our kids a chance to succeed."

Halifax County Schools serves about 4,400 students in 14 schools.


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  • Nancy Apr 23, 2009

    "No Child Left Behind has done a SERIOUS disservice to these children- kids are passed and passed- and then everyone is SHOCKED when they graduate and can't read."

    NCLB had nothing to do with the local school system who long before NCLB stipulated that all students in elementary schools will be passed to the next grade, ready or not.

  • furion4865 Apr 23, 2009

    Some of the comments on this post are incredibly racist. The best indicator of a child's future educational success is the income level of their parents. Halifax County is a relatively poor county with relatively poor people, and voila, you have under performing schools. Moreover, one's ability to perform well on so-called merit tests has absolutely no relation to one's overall abilities. Somehow, educational tests that don't measure anything other than a student's ability to memorize useless information and usually render results directly proportional to a student's parents ability to pay for test preparation services have redefined merit and probably created the nation's biggest civil rights issue. Who regulates these testing services; who audits the authenticity of these examinations; who audits and verifies the scoring of these examinations---no one. These modern-day "literacy tests" are creating a permanent underclass of minority students and should be fully investigated.

  • sunset823 Apr 23, 2009

    DPI has this wrong. There are already transformation coaches in place; the plan would add more and Halifax would foot the bill as opposed to DPI- do you seriously think 2-3 weeks of training will fix years of poor performance? No Child Left Behind has done a SERIOUS disservice to these children- kids are passed and passed- and then everyone is SHOCKED when they graduate and can't read. Yes, parents have responsibilities, but the truth is that NO ONE, not parents nor educators, expect any thing out of these kids- they expect they to continue the welfare cycle and never go to college- or leave the area. It's a self-fulfilling prophecy. Also, there is a problem here that starts with the school board and goes all the way down to the teachers: for the most part, no one wants to be responsible or accountable for the education of these children. WRAL- LOOK INTO WHAT THE BOARD is doing and what role they are playing.

  • furion4865 Apr 23, 2009

    Halifax County was notorious for suspending black students for petty school violations or for no violations at all, and then forcing the students to participate in a home-based internet schooling system that was offline the vast majority of the time. To add insult to injury, if the students didn't turn in a work assignment on time, they could get expelled. How are you supposed to turn in homework on a computer that doesn't work? I wish WRAL would look into the use of these internet-based detention halls. I know an attorney that tried to get a temporary injunction against this program, because kids were getting unjustifiably expelled, but the Halifax County judge didn't see a problem with black kids getting wrongfully expelled. With policies like these no wonder the literacy rate in Halifax County is so abysmal. It almost looks like someone wants these kids to fail.

  • panthers254 Apr 23, 2009

    if you've ever been in halifax county and spent a little time there, it doesnt take long to learn that education isnt real high on their list of priorities. those folks in the ivory tower havent really learned that you cant solve every problem just by throwing money at it. this problem has everything to do with parenting and accountability. sad but true.

  • bbfan Apr 22, 2009

    Nancy- You are so right. The money would be better spent making class sizes smaller, providing resources at the classroom level like computers and other things to get the kids more interested, and required parenting classes and monitoring for parents whose students are not performing.

    I also like the idea of grades tied to checks or how about treating grades like they do attendance- they take those parents to court with the possible punishment of jail time or a fine if the kid does not start attending school regularly. I could go on and on about strings that should be attached to government money like drug testing, forced birth control after 2 kids, etc.

  • Iworkforaliving Apr 22, 2009

    Also, why don't they do what wake county is doing but on a larger scale and bus the "under-performing kids" to different counties? How do they pay for it? Steal more money from the highway fund and/or raise taxes more. We still get some money from our paycheck, surely they can take more out of it. In fact why not just keep the whole dam thing and just mail us the stub? We love to work 50 hours a week for nothing, builds character.

  • Iworkforaliving Apr 22, 2009

    psychobabble said something that made allot of sense.

  • anonemoose Apr 22, 2009

    Take the single parent who is now 19, and has two kids, 3 and 1. In three years, how many more kids will she have, and how interested will she be in her kids school work? By the time the first kid hits middle school, what then? Also, look at the kids names these days. The more messed up the name, the lower the education level of the mother. Where is the incentive to be responsible parents. As long as they get free housing in the projects, free healthcare, and bigger welfare and food stamp payments, they will continue to feed the cycle.

  • Nancy Apr 22, 2009

    Their solution is a continuation of the problem!

    "Under the intervention plan, DPI staff would provide intensive support and oversight to coach principals in effective instructional and school leadership, provide tools to help central office personnel better guide the school district and ensure that teachers get the necessary support and resources needed to improve student learning."

    Hello!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! What does it take to realize funding more nonsense in the ivory tower administration (trickle down directives) will not result in higher learning????

    Give the teachers the authority at the elementary school to hold kids back who don't meet grade levels! Force the parents to be responsible in getting their kids to pass the grade!