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Editorial: Knox principal leaves: Change can be unpopular

No one denies Gerald MoragneEl changed Knox Middle School during his short tenure as its principal. Whether those changes are good or not-so-great seems to have been a point of contention among at least some Knox parents and even some faculty members.
On the one hand is the state’s measurement of how well a school is educating its students. Numbers are concrete and so they seem a reliable enough indicator of a school’s trajectory, which, in the case of Knox under MoragneEl was up.
In the 2007-2008 academic year, the school met only 16 of 25 goals in North Carolina’s end-of-grade testing program and did not make what the state considers adequate yearly progress on increasing the percentage of students scoring at or above grade level. The state designated Knox a low-performing school and the N.C. Department of Public Instruction stepped in to determine what it needed to improve.
At the end of the 2008-2009 school year ó MoragneEl’s first as principal ó Knox met 25 of 27 goals. The school made adequate yearly progress and 45 percent of students scored at or above grade level on the tests, up from 34 percent the year before.
But numbers don’t always tell the whole story and they don’t in this case.
MoragneEl admits he made sweeping cultural changes in his one full year as head of the school, including requiring parents and other adult visitors to show identification and dividing the grades into “academies” that limited students’ movements around the campus off Mahaley Avenue and assigned particular administrators, guidance counselors and teacher teams to each academy.
He acknowledges that some ó and not just students or parents, but some on his own faculty ó didn’t much care for the new plan, which appears to have required a greater effort on everyone’s part to instill and adhere to discipline at a school that even parents say needed it.
It would be logical to make the connection between improved discipline and better test scores and seemingly hard to complain about those results. But some at the school and others associated with it still found reasons to be unhappy with MoragneEl. And he says his status as a lightning rod for dissension was preventing Knox from moving forward.
Emily Rivers, whose daughter is in eighth-grade at Knox, said her daughter was devastated by the news of MoragneEl’s resignation and that she doesn’t know who the school system will find to instill that kind of passion in a student. Let’s hope district officials can select someone everybody can agree on so Knox can get on with its most important changes ó the ones a good school can make in students’ lives.

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