Local News

Poor performance in Halifax schools prompts state response

Posted April 22, 2009 4:04 p.m. EDT
Updated April 22, 2009 10:55 p.m. EDT

— 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.