Nearly 600 NC schools missed a week or more due to Hurricane Florence. How did they fare academically?

Nearly 600 North Carolina public schools missed a week or more of class after Hurricane Florence battered the state last September. The storm closed two schools permanently, damaged hundreds of others and caused more than 5,000 students to be homeless, according to the state education department.

Posted Updated

Kelly Hinchcliffe
, WRAL education reporter
RALEIGH, N.C. — Last September, kindergarten teacher Lisa Godwin begged her principal at Dixon Elementary to let her into the school. She needed to get her classroom supplies. The Onslow County school was badly damaged by Hurricane Florence and was closed to all staff and students, but her principal cautiously agreed, telling her to put on a mask and be out within 15 minutes.
Godwin, the 2017 North Carolina Teacher of the Year, raced inside and grabbed everything she could – tubs of books, her files, glue sticks, scissors, construction paper, anything she could get her hands on. She loaded it into the trunk of her car and posted on social media, #HaveCarWillTeach.

For more than a month, Godwin and other teachers at her school created pop-up classrooms around the area for their students, teaching them in two-to-three hour spurts as they dealt with the devastation Florence brought to their lives. When students couldn't get to the pop-up classes, Godwin and other teachers posted their lessons on YouTube, trying to reach students any way they could.

Last Wednesday, Godwin was once again out of school due to another big storm – this time Hurricane Dorian. She checked her email and saw a note from her principal. He had test results showing how the school performed academically last year. Despite being out of their school building for two months, Dixon Road Elementary students performed very well, earning the school a B grade and exceeding academic growth expectations.

"When we got those scores back, I'm telling you," Godwin said. "It was like we all just ... cried. We were very emotional. It's a big deal."

Dixon Road Elemetary is one of nearly 600 North Carolina public schools that missed a week or more of class after Hurricane Florence battered the state last September. The storm closed two schools permanently, damaged hundreds of others and caused more than 5,000 students to be homeless, according to the state education department.

Newly released school performance data from the 2018-19 school year show how the schools performed. Nearly 140 of the schools – about 23% – exceeded academic growth expectations, like Dixon Elementary, despite missing anywhere from five to more than 26 days of school. Nearly 80 of those schools are Title I, meaning they serve large percentages of children from poor families.

Godwin celebrated her school's academic accomplishments on Twitter Wednesday.

"Hurricane Florence may have kept us out of school for 8 weeks, but we persevered," she wrote. "K-2nd grade teachers laid the foundation and our 3rd and 4th grade teachers brought the heat! So proud to be a Dixon Bulldog!"

As Godwin shared her school's good news on social media, Onslow County Schools announced they would be closed the rest of the week due to Hurricane Dorian. Dixon Elementary School suffered some minor leaks, but nothing major, Godwin said when reached by phone Friday.

"It's just a blessing. We're feeling good today," she said.

Hurricane Florence did have an impact on students' academics last school year, according to Tammy Howard, director of accountability services for the state Department of Public Instruction.

"It was determined that there was an impact for grade 3," she told State Board of Education members Wednesday. "It was around the beginning of grade 3 assessment ... Some schools had to take that beginning of grade 3 assessment later. Some schools took it on time, but they were doing it under very stressful situations."

An adjustment was made to the grade 3 academic growth analysis, Howard said, to account for the number of days students missed due to Hurricane Florence and "to ensure the validity and comparability" of the data.

All North Carolina public schools, including charter schools, have received A through F letter grades since 2013-14, when the General Assembly passed legislation requiring it. Schools are also judged on whether their students exceeded, met or did not meet academic growth expectations during the year.

More than a third of North Carolina's approximately 2,500 public schools received a performance grade of A or B last school year and 28 percent of all schools exceeded academic growth expectations. Nearly 120 schools received both a performance grade of A and exceeded academic growth.

Critics of the grading system, including the Public School Forum of North Carolina, say school grades are more indicative of which schools have the highest concentrations of students living in poverty than how well educators are teaching children.

Mark Jewell, president of the North Carolina Association of Educators, said the state "should be giving our educators and students the resources they need to be successful, rather than wasting precious time and money on a punitive grading system that relies on high-stakes testing."