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Principal: Henderson turnaround has begun

By Sarah Campbell
scampbell@salisburypost.com
SALISBURY — It’s been less than a year since Henderson Independent High School received a federal School Improvement grant, but first-year Principal Trisha Baptist said things are already starting to turn around.
The nearly $2.2 million grant, which will be distributed over a three-year span, was given to the school based on a formula that identified it in the bottom 5 percent of the state’s consistently lowest-achieving schools, according to state testing and a graduation rate of less than 60 percent.
The school applied for the grant under the turnaround model, which required it to replace the principal and rehire no more than half the staff.
Baptist was hired as the new principal at the end of July.
Focus on academics
The grant is funding several new teachers in the areas of family and consumer sciences, math and physical education.
Baptist said teachers work in collaborative teams to develop various instruction strategies and support to assist students.
The teams, created based on disciplines, develop common assessments and analyze historical student data in an effort to find out whether or not students have met certain objectives and goals.
“What you have is everyone focused on looking at the same things,” Baptist said. “Teachers have the ability to talk to one another about students they share.”
Each student also has a personalized education plan, created by the collaborative teams.
“It provides a student with an individualized instructional plan, something that is germain to that particlar students based on their academic history,” Baptist said.
Baptist said she is also working to add more career and technical education classes at the school.
“We want to appeal more to our student base,” she said. “We want to broaden our offerings because we have so many students who come to us from across the county and many of the students are already involved in those career pathways so we want to pick them up from where they already are and continue with the pathways they already have.”
Baptist said she would like to see construction, cosmetology and nursing courses available in the future.
“We want to add some additional career pathways to give our students a choice,” she said.
Technology upgrades
Baptist said the grant has also enhanced student engagement by giving students more access to technology.
The entire school is now completely wireless and each student and teacher is equipped with a MacBook.
“Students are able to gain access to materials and learning they normally would not be able to do with a book,” Baptist said.
Baptist said upgrades are especially important now that students live in a such a “technology-based world.”
“With kids nowadays if they don’t have something they can visually see and participate in sometimes they are not going to retain as much,” she said.
Building additions
Construction is currently under way on a new science lab.
“It’s really going to be state of the art for students to utilize during experiments,” Baptist said.
Baptist said equipment for the lab has already been ordered and the space is expected to be complete by mid April.
The school is also planning to add a media center to the building.
The project will begin in April with a makeover of a room in the bottom level of the building. Baptist anticipates it will be complete before the start of school in the fall.
Baptist said there was talk of adding a science lab and media center before she arrived and the grant supplied the funds to make it a reality.
“The ideas actually came from our students,” she said. “Many of them felt these are things they would love to have in their school,” she said.
The whole student
Since taking over, Baptist has also hired a full time mental health counselor and intervention specialist.
Baptist said last year students had limited opportunities to see a counselor, but things are different now that both support staff are on hand every day.
“Now more than ever, I’m seeing a lot of our students who are coming, not just here, but everywhere, who have more than academic issues,” Baptist said. “A lot of times, unless you address those pressing issues first you can’t get past to focus on the educational issue.
Baptist hopes to hire another mental health counselor and create a mental health suite at the school.
“We are to the point now that we have to support every aspect of the child, not just the academic piece,” she said.
The intervention specialist meets with families and students before they begin school at Henderson to provide information about support services provided through the school system and outside agencies such as the Department of Social Services, Carolina Counseling and the Nazareth Children’s Home.
Discipline decline
Baptist said discipline problems at the school have been on the decline this year.
There were 149 incidents of disciplinary action from August through December of 2009 and 87 for the same period this year, a nearly 42 percent decrease.
Discipline dipped the most in October by more than 65 percent from 51 incident in 2009 to 19 last year.
Baptist attributes part of those drops to increased student engagement through technology.
She said the mental health counselor and intervention specialist also plays a vital role in cutting behavior issues.
“My belief is to use alternatives to help our students again make better choices,” Baptist said.
Baptist has launched an in-school suspension (ISS) program to reprimand students without sending them home.
“It assists me in keeping the child in school and prevents students from getting behind on their work,” she said. “
The school has also curbed behavior issues by implementing honor roll ceremonies and the Eagle of the Week program, which recognizes one student each week based on academics, behavior an attendance.
Baptist is also focusing on keeping parents involved.
“We are taking every opportunity to bring parents into the building and get them to buy into what we’re doing,” she said. “I feel that if your get the parents on board that’s half the battle.”
What’s next?
The school will receive two more years of grant funding.
Baptist hopes to utilize those funds to hire a graduation coach who will help guide students.
“I really want students to be connected, I want them to leave Henderson having some ideas of what their next step is whether that is a four-year college, two-year college, trade school or work,” she said. “A high school diploma is important, but what are you going to do with it.
“Many of our students need to be pushed in that direction to know what they are going to do after high school.”
Baptist would also like to implement a work study program to pair students with local businesses.
“It’s important to show students that there is life after high school and most importantly that there is hope,” she said.
The school is also considering adding a day care at the school.
“Some of our students have children and I know a big worry for them is child care,” Baptist said.
Baptist said finding community partners is another goal she hopes to tackle soon.
“It does take a village to raise a child and we need everyone’s help,” she said.
Contact reporter Sarah Campbell at 704-797-7683.

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