Local News

Governor Sends Task Force to Find Secrets of Educational Success

Posted September 18, 2001 6:10 a.m. EDT

— A governor's task force charged with unlocking the secrets of educational success begins its work this week at a Wilson County school.

Inspection teams from Gov. Mike Easley's Education First Task Force were to start at Wilson County's Rock Ridge Elementary School.

Meanwhile, Robert W. Pope, principal of Winstead Elementary School, was the opening witness Monday in a trial to determine how far the state must go to equalize opportunities for disadvantaged school children.

Winstead, an inner-city school in Wilson, saw a passing rate of 75.7 percent on year-end tests in 2000.

"Our board prefers to call them `at promise,"' Pope testified. "We have a significant number whose promise has not yet been fulfilled."

Superior Court Judge Howard E. Manning Jr. ruled last year that disadvantaged North Carolina children are not receiving the "sound basic education" guaranteed by the state constitution. Over the next three weeks, he wants to find local successes that can be emulated statewide - if possible, without additional funding.

Easley's task force is charged with going beyond Manning's basics to pursue a "superior, competitive education" for all children.

Two elementary schools, Kingswood in Wake County and Baskerville in Nash County, are on both the inspection tour of 12 schools and the witness list of six schools that Manning selected, because both have high numbers of poor and minority students who score well in the state's ABCs accountability tests.

The Education First group also will visit schools that do not fit Manning's criteria, including Magellan Charter and Enloe High School in Raleigh.

"They don't necessarily have high percentages of poor and minority students," said Charles L. Thompson, director of the Chapel Hill-based Education Research Council, whose staff is supporting the Education First Task Force. "But they are doing extremely well, and the poor and minority kids they do have are doing well."

Rock Ridge's 500 students, largely from farming families, led the county with an 89.2 percent passing rate on year-end tests in spring 2000. Task force visitors will hear about parent involvement.

"We saw 96 percent of our parents last year, face to face, at some event at the school," Principal Beverly P. Boyette said. "The secret to our success is high expectations for every child, conveying those expectations to the parents, and working together."

Rock Ridge's enrollment is 20 percent African-American, 20 percent Hispanic, 59 percent non-Hispanic white and 1 percent other ethnic groups, she said. About 49 percent come from families whose low income qualifies them for free or reduced-price lunches.

Winstead's 444-student body is 88 percent African-American, 7 percent Hispanic, and 5 percent non-Hispanic white, Pope said, with 84 percent from low-income families.

Pope described strategies to help teachers target each pupil's needs. "Accelerated Math" uses individualized quizzes generated and graded by computer, with questions keyed to each student's progress.

"They really enjoy math, where it was a chore for them before," Pope said.

Easley's More at Four preschool education program, with $6.5 million in startup funds, remains tied up in the legislative budget talks. State Sen. Howard Lee said the greatest threat to the program was the souring economy, which may prompt lower revenue forecasts.

"If we have to revise revenues downward," Lee said, "everything is back on the table."