State News

Bill and Melinda Gates visit Durham school

Posted September 23, 2009 6:41 p.m. EDT
Updated September 24, 2009 3:19 p.m. EDT

— Bill and Melinda Gates got a first-hand look at North Carolina schools and colleges on Wednesday after beginning what they called a “two-day learning trip.”

The Microsoft billionaire and his wife met with teachers, students and administrators at West Charlotte High School to talk about how the school is using data to track student progress and identify effective teaching methods.

“They literally are doing assessments every two weeks and the data is available the next morning,” Melinda Gates told The Associated Press in an interview afterward. “They are really using data to measure those kids and it’s starting to drive outcomes at a school that had been underperforming before. That’s a key part of what we’re trying to do.”

The couple later met with dozens of students from several North Carolina colleges at Central Piedmont Community College. Students did most of the talking as the couple questioned them on their experiences with developmental courses, online learning and how they were paying for college.

Students represented schools from Davidson County Community College, Guilford Technical Community College, Piedmont Central, North Carolina A&T State University and University of North Carolina at Charlotte.

The Gates are co-chairs of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which is pushing to improve the success rate of community college students.

Their initial education efforts focused on high schools, but in recent years they’ve increasingly supported programs that they hope will be modeled for increasing the percentage of community college students who complete a degree.

On Thursday, the couple visited Durham Performance Learning Center to talk with students and staff. The high school for students who have dropped out of school or who are at-risk of dropping out is a partnership between Durham Public Schools and Communities in Schools of Durham.

The Gateses also were expected to in Raleigh Thursday to meet with state officials and former Gov. Jim Hunt, a prominent national figure in education reform.