State News

Low-performing schools rile Halifax leaders, parents

Posted August 5, 2011 4:27 p.m. EDT
Updated August 5, 2011 6:44 p.m. EDT

— Nearly half of North Carolina's 13 lowest-performing schools are in Halifax County, and those numbers riled local leaders and parents who want more action from the school system, which is under state supervision.

"I'm disgusted," Halifax County Commissioner Rives Manning said Friday. "I think it's an indictment on the school system."

The latest ABCs of Education report, based on test scores from grades 3 through 12, show that six of Halifax County's 11 didn't improve student performance as expected last year: Davie Middle School, Northwest and Southeast high schools, and Dawson, Everetts, Inborden elementary schools.

Composite test scores show that between 24.7 to 44.8 percent of students in the low-performing schools were proficient at their grade level.

"I wasn't shocked, but I really thought things had improved this year," said Tiffany Simmons, whose two children go to Inborden Elementary.

School Superintendent Elease Frederick agreed with the assessment of the test scores.

"I am very disappointed," said Frederick, who took over the job after a judge ordered state intervention in 2009.

Most principals and some teachers at the low-performing schools have been fired, so they can start over with new leadership, she said. 

"We've made significant changes in personnel this year," said Bill Harrison, chairman of the State Board of Education. "Hindsight is 20/20. If I could have gone back and made those personnel changes two years ago, I think we'd be sitting in a different place."

Halifax school board chair Donna Hunter said another concern is a high number of student absences.

The Halifax school board voted to lengthen the school day by 30 minutes and the school calendar by two days. Administrators and teachers are also scheduled to get training from state education experts next week, before the school year starts on Aug. 25.

Halifax County Schools is in the midst of a three-year, intensive program aimed at boosting student performance. Superior Court Judge Howard Manning ordered the state intervention in 2009, calling the district's test scores "academic genocide."

School leaders pointed to some signs of progress, such as a rising high school graduation rate – from 54.8 percent in 2008-09 to 71.5 percent last year.

"We are going to get where we need to be. We're going to make sure that our students are getting a sound education," Frederick said.

Parents said they're willing to give the schools a chance to improve.

"I'm sticking with Halifax County," Simmons said. "I was born and raised here, so I'm going to stick it out."