Local News

Education leaders agree to fix Halifax school system

Posted April 29, 2009 4:02 a.m. EDT
Updated April 29, 2009 6:32 p.m. EDT

— State and local educational leaders have agreed on an intensive training program to help Halifax County teachers and principals improve their failing schools.

Superior Court Judge Howard Manning heard details Wednesday of a plan agreed to by both sides. Manning ordered action last month, saying the district operated so poorly that it was committing "academic genocide."

The plan would use about $1.8 million to hire 12 full-time education coaches and provide summer retraining courses for all 360 teachers and teaching assistants in the district. Teachers would be required to complete two weeks of training, principals three.

"We have been working to develop a plan that will go beyond coaching," said Dr. Pat Ashley, director of the state Department of Public Instruction's District and Transformation team, which is tasked with getting low-performing schools back on track.

Every classroom would be staffed with a competent, certified teacher, every school led by a competent and well-trained principal and schools would have resources they need under the plan, Ashley said.

Manning said he was concerned about accountability and what would happen if the plan is implemented and teachers and school administrators don't follow the program.

"What happens when they don't do what she says?" Manning asked. "That's what I want to get to."

"They would exit the system," Ashley said. "It is called "Succeed or go. We are monitoring to ensure that responsibility has been assumed"

More than 70 percent of elementary school students in Halifax County can't meet proficient reading standards on statewide tests. About three out of four middle school students are not proficient readers.

Halifax Schools Superintendent Geraldine Middleton said she supports the state's plan but worries about how it will affect the budget.

"The problem is that we have no money," she said. "It's not a problem of making choices around money. We simply don't have the money to spend."

Manning has long overseen the academic performance of state schools after a ruling several years ago in Leandro v. State of North Carolina, a case that sought to get more state support for school districts in low-income and rural areas.

"Those children deserve the teacher being able to teach them what they're supposed to know, including the multiplication tables and how to add and subtract in your head – which is not being done," he said Wednesday. "That's basic stuff."