School closings need reconsideration

Michell Burrows Columnist

On behalf of the A+ Schools Program of the North Carolina Arts Council, I would like to submit this letter of support for our A+ schools in Bladen County, Booker T. Washington Primary and Clarkton School of Discovery. Both schools have been a part of the A+ Schools Network since its inception in 1995 and continue to exemplify A+ practice and philosophy in their daily business of doing school! We were distraught to hear of the potential closing of these two A+ schools and hope that our commitment of support will have an impact on your decision-making process.

The A+ Schools Program, a signature program of the North Carolina Arts Council, was established in 1995 by the Kenan Institute for the Arts and is recognized as the most successful, longest lasting, arts-based whole school reform model in the nation. Years of evaluation, culminating in the book Creating and Sustaining Arts-Based School Reform: The Schools Program, conclude that when a school is highly engaged in the A+ process, teachers are more effective, students are more engaged, and there is more community and parental involvement.

In addition, A+ is featured prominently in a new report released by the President’ s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities, Reinvesting in Arts Education: Winning America’s Future Through Creative Schools.

This report details the powerful role that arts education strategies can play in closing the achievement gap, improving student engagement, building creativity, and nurturing innovative thinking skills. In addition, following our highly successful 20 year history, the N.C. Legislature has just awarded the A+ Schools Program more than $700,000 in funding over the next two years. This state commitment to the A+ Schools Program should demonstrate the value of having two nationally-recognized A+ schools in your district.

A+ has been working with both schools since their entry into the A+ Schools Network the summer of 1995 and has provided financial support for on-going professional development for each school, totaling roughly $250,000 over the past 20 years. Through teacher and administration changes, revisions of standards and accountability systems, and district and state initiatives and mandates, the administration and faculty at Booker T. Washington and Clarkton School of Discovery schools continue to reflect upon and grow their engaging and creative educational practices while providing an environment of community and strong student engagement, academic growth and achievement.

As a part of the A+ Schools Network, both schools are connected to the N.C. Arts Council, to the other 50 A+ schools across the state and the more than 160 A+ schools across the nation. We are committed to providing on-going professional development and support to both schools, including subsidizing the professional development costs to keep both schools active and engaged in the A+ Network.

We hope that you will reconsider closing these two A+ schools and instead will allow them to continue to grow and flourish as they provide their students with a creative, engaging, and standards-based education. Please feel free to contact me if I can provide you with additional information on these two long-time A+ schools or on the A+ Schools Program.

Michelle Burrows is the director of the A+ Schools Program based in Raleigh.

Michell Burrows Columnist Burrows Columnist