Improvement plan not as costly as some

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, December 2, 2009

By Sarah Nagem
Salisbury Post
When North Rowan High landed on the governor’s watchlist after two years of less-than-satisfactory performance, school leaders had a couple of options.
They could have bought a pre-packaged improvement plan that would have laid out guidelines. Such packages are often expensive ó sometimes $400,000, Principal Rodney Bass says.
Instead, school leaders decided to create their own plan. The result is a multi-step Framework for Action, part of the N.C. Department of Public Instruction’s plan for poor-performing turnaround schools.
Their proposal will likely cost about $60,000, Bass says, most of which will go toward learning tools, especially training for teachers.
The state is expected to approve the plan or request changes to it by May 30.
Here are some highlights of North Rowan’s proposed plan:
– Create a freshman academy.
Starting in the fall, every high school in Rowan County will have some type of freshman academy.
Leaders at each school will design the academy, says Kathy McDuffie, director of secondary education for Rowan-Salisbury Schools.
At North Rowan, the freshman academy will include a summer transition program for incoming freshman. Students will learn the ropes of their new school and get acquainted with one another, Bass says.
“There’s a big transition for a freshman,” he says.
Once school starts, teachers will “team teach” freshmen, Bass says. Groups of teachers will focus on particular groups of students.
– Give more help to struggling students.
In essence, this calls for personalized education plans. Teachers will ask parents to get more involved and offer one-on-one instruction after school.
“It gets everyone in the building involved with the kids,” Bass says.
– Teach kids to read (yes, even in high school).
Too many students are coming to North Rowan without some basic skills, Bass says.
“Our biggest problem is reading levels,” he says. “We have to go back and get these kids reading on a high-school level.”
To do that, Bass wants his students to read more in all classes, including math.
– Build professional learning communities.
This is a fancy way of saying teachers from different departments should work together more.
With this model, a history teacher who is planning a lesson on the Civil War could coordinate with an English teacher, who could have students read a story about that time period.
“The idea there is two heads are better than one,” Bass says. “We’re trying to get everyone to collaborate on the well-being of the children.”
– Assign students a mentor.
North Rowan already has an advisor system, but it could use some improvement, Bass says.
A new-and-improved system could assign 10 to 15 students to a particular teacher, he says. That teacher would serve as a mentor for those students. For a student, having a meaningful connection to a teacher can make all the difference, Bass says. He thinks assigning mentors will reduce dropout rates and improve students’ grades.
“It helps in just guiding them along the right pathway,” he says.- Assess more often.Teachers will assess students’ learning more often, Bass says. That way, he says, teachers will have a better sense of what kids are retaining.
– Get parents involved.
In elementary schools, many parents show up for teacher conferences and are eager to help in any way, Bass says.
In middle schools, that kind of parent involvement often slows, and by the time students get to high school, many parents adopt the attitude that their children can handle things on their own, Bass says.
He wants to reverse that mentality and convince parents to play an active role in their children’s education.
Contact Sarah Nagem at 704-797-7683 or