District and schools to develop improvement plans

By: By Erin Smith - erinsmith@civitasmedia.com

ELIZABETHTOWN — The Bladen County Board of Education recently heard a report from Assistant Superintendent Tonya Head regarding the Focus, Priority and Low Performing Schools in Bladen County.

She told the board the Central Office staff are in the process of developing a plan and determining what steps to take to see improvement in student performance. Head added that while the Central Office staff is preparing a district plan to address the problems the individual schools will also develop a plan. All plans will be submitted to the NC Department of Public Instruction by the end of October.

Head told the board the county has nine schools identified as low performing based on report that was received on Oct. 8.

Bladen County Schools Superintendent Robert Taylor told the board during the meeting the district office was unaware of the need to develop a plan until the General Assembly approved the 2015-16 budget. Taylor told the board until the Assembly released its official budget, the school district was unaware of the time line for developing the plan. The district has until Oct. 30, to develop the necessary plans and submit them to the state and demonstrate they are meeting their objectives.

On Tuesday, Taylor said, “The state has identified what they identify as low performing schools and low performing districts.”

The N.C. Department of Public Instruction defines a low performing school as having a grade of D or F and not meeting expected growth. According to Taylor, Bladen County had five schools classified as low performing for academic year 2014-15. They are Booker T. Washington, Bladenboro Middle, East Bladen High School, and Elizabethtown Middle School. It was also noted in the meeting that Elizabethtown Middle School was the only school in Bladen County to receive an F and not meet expected growth. They were identified by the state as a focus school.

“We will develop a plan as a district talking about what we will do to improve,” said Taylor.

He said the district will offer the schools a tiered support plan meaning that dependent of the tier the school is placed into will reflect the amount of support services provided. The plan identifies three different categories —-guided support, targeted support and focus/high support.

For example, Taylor said Elizabethtown Middle will receive three visits per month from the curriculum specialists, superintendent and assistant superintendent. Taylor said they will be meeting with teachers, looking at testing data, providing professional development in a number of ways.

Taylor pointed out that in the case of Dublin Elementary, the school was recognized as a School of Distinction.

“They not only met growth, but went beyond it,” said Taylor.

He said because of that, the staff there will receive what the plan identifies as guided support, which will include such things as working with individual teachers, professional development for teachers and staff, providing support based on school needs assessment, among other things.

“It (the level of support) will either be more intense or less intense depending on where the school is (in the tiers),” said Taylor.

He said the plan will include many things the district has been doing all along but will now step up the level of intensity.

“The proof in the pudding will be at the end of the year when the students take the end-of-grade or end-of-course tests,” said Taylor.

He said the staff will also be administering assessments along the way that are similar to the tests given to the students at the end of a week.

“One of the things we rely on is the state system called School Net. We use School Net to develop assessments that will align with state requirements,” said Taylor.

He said the teacher has the ability to select from a variety of questions for their subject areas that are rated from easy to difficult. Taylor said School Net lets the school look at how well the students are doing on assessments.

He cautioned these grades issued by the state are not a true reflection of how the students are performing. Taylor said the formula used by the state to calculate the school’s grade is based on 20 percent on having met/not met expected growth and 80 percent on proficiency meaning scores earned on end-of-grade and end-of-course tests.

Taylor said in the past, the accountability model placed more emphasis on schools meeting expected growth.

“When we went to Common Core, we went to much more difficult tests,” said Taylor.

He said the accountability system is one that is often difficult for parents to understand. Taylor said parents who have concerns about their child’s performance should schedule an appointment with their child’s teacher and look at the quality of work the child is doing.

Taylor said other districts in the region are also struggling. He said Bladen, Columbus, Robeson, and Anson counties are low labeled by the state a low performing districts because of the number of schools labeled D or F and not meeting growth.

Other schools in Bladen County earned the following grades: Bladenboro Primary earned a C and met expected growth; Bladen Lakes School earned a D but met expected growth; Clarkton School of Discovery received a C but met expected growth; Dublin Elementary received a C but met exceeded expected growth; East Arcadia School received a D but met expected growth; Elizabethtown Primary School received a D but met expected growth; Tar Heel Middle received a D but met expected growth and West Bladen High School received a C but did not meet expected growth.

Erin Smith can be reached by calling 910-862-4163.

By Erin Smith