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Former chair says blame not all Doby's

By Jessie Burchette

Salisbury Post

A former leader of the Rowan-Salisbury Board of Education said Tuesday that board members and other school officials knew of the system’s failures to meet federal guidelines.

Sharon Deal, a former school board chairman and retired educator, also defended Dr. Wiley J. Doby former superintendent.

Top county and school officials have recently blamed Doby with the system’s falling into corrective action under the federal No Child Left Behind program.

Last month, school officials announced that the system is in the bottom 11 in the state and faces serious sanctions if student scores do not improve significantly.

School board members, including current Chairman Bryce Beard, said they didn’t know the system was headed for trouble with the state until summoned to a meeting with the State Board of Education.

Deal, contacted by the Post, said she was disturbed at the reports that school officials somehow didn’t know. “We were always upfront on how schools perform,” she said.

“Everybody knew schools weren’t performing … I can’t believe there were people who believed that with as many schools we had failing, that the district was OK,” Deal said. She served on the school board from 2002 until December 2006.

“When you see that the schools are having problems, it leads you to the conclusion that the district is having problems,” Deal said. “We never tried to hide anything.”

She cited numerous public meetings where the board talked about the increasing number of schools failing to meet the Adequate Yearly Progress targets mandated under the federal program.

In the first year of the program, the 2002-03 school year, Rowan-Salisbury Schools had 10 schools that met AYP targets. That number rose in the following years, but in 2005-06, it dropped back to 10.

In the same period, the system went from having only one school that failed to meet expected growth in the state ABC program to having 25 schools that failed to do so in 2005-06.

While Deal said the board didn’t focus on the district failing, it did talk a lot about the schools failing and how to turn them around.

A former assistant principal and director of middle grades for the system, Deal said she saw no indication that Doby or anyone else tried to withhold information or hide anything.

Deal, a China Grove resident who chose not to seek re-election, said the focus needs to be on improving the schools instead of trying to find someone to blame.

“Of course, the buck stops with the superintendent,” Deal said, adding that others can shoulder the blame for the failings, including assistant superintendents, directors and the school board. “I realize I’m involved,” she said.

Deal said the system had turnover in principals at several schools during the past four years.

Deal also responded to repeated reports that some teachers haven’t been teaching the state standard course of study, which has contributed to the failing scores.

The state tests are geared to what is taught in the standard course of study.

As a director for middle grades, Deal said the emphasis was always on teaching the standard courses of study. And new teachers got special attention to make sure they followed the state plan.

Deal agrees with critics of No Child Left Behind who say it creates a very high threshold for success because of the different subgroups and the number of targets that vary with the makeup of each school and school district.

“It’s all or nothing with No Child Left Behind, I hope people understand that.”

She is in agreement with top school and county officials in supporting Dr. Judy Grissom, who took over as superintendent last April.

Deal said Grissom is very competent and qualified.

“I think she was aware of where the system was, she had done her homework … (Grissom) said that she felt Rowan-Salisbury Schools could do better.”

If Grissom had not been available and interested in the job as superintendent, Deal said she would have supported a full-blown search for a superintendent when Doby resigned.

Doby is now superintendent in Duplin County.

He did not return phone calls the Post placed to his office Tuesday and Wednesday.

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