My Turn, Angelo DelliSanti: More than a ‘C’ school

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, September 8, 2015

On Aug. 12, I received an email informing me that Carson’s school performance grade would be downgraded from a “B” to a “C.” My heart sank. Tremendous change occurred in 2014-2015 for the better — we provided every student and teacher with a laptop, experienced a major shift in pedagogical practices, and re-examined our instructional priorities.

Although I had been prepared for a relatively small dip in performance given the amount of change we undertook, which included three new building administrators, I remained disappointed.

I toiled over the numbers, percentages, rates, and growth patterns for the entire afternoon. Finally, Mr. Connolly, a school counselor who has served Carson since its first day, reminded me of something very important: Schools cannot be reduced to a letter grade.

I agree with him. If you were to ask any staff member at Carson High School, they would tell you that Carson is not a “C” school. They would tell you that we are a school dedicated to putting “students first.” If you were to ask students to grade their high school experience, they would tell you that Carson is not a “C” school. They would tell you that we are a school that values each individual student and provides a variety of opportunities to grow. Rather than simply focus on the letter grade Carson has been assigned, they would share some of our huge successes from last year:

• Carson increased its graduation rate from 90.2 percent in 2014 to 92.67 percent in 2015 – the highest graduation rate it has ever earned.

• Our students earned more scholarship money than ever before, growing from $775,000 in accepted money in 2014 to over $2.5 million in money offered and $1.9 million accepted in 2015.

• Our average ACT score in 2015 matched our single-year greatest gain, growing from an average score of 17.5 to 18.1.

• Math I scores rose by approximately 5 percent.

• Biology proficiency, at 60.6 percent, remains over 5 percent higher than the state average.

Those results were achieved, not only through the diligent work of our students, but also by the collaborative spirit modeled by our teachers. Carson, more than any other staff I’ve worked with, is a team. According to author Simon Sinek, “A team is not a group of people who work together. A team is a group of people who trust each other.” The staff at Carson is the embodiment of this statement, as they work within and across their departments and professional learning communities to make certain students are getting what they need every single time they walk into the building.

Perhaps the greatest reason why Carson is not a “C” school is that our students genuinely enjoy coming to school each day. They are greeted by teachers who are passionate about their students’ futures and who are excited about providing an extraordinary education.

That extraordinary education takes on many forms that fall outside of the normal classroom experience and that cannot be quantified by state-mandated performance measures. A “C” letter grade does not take into account an unmatched high school musical each spring; a night school program that gives the hope of success and graduation to many students who might otherwise drop out; opportunities to travel the world, which include multiple trips to China, England, France, and Hawaii; and the chance for students to follow their passion or to learn about something completely new on Tuesdays and Thursdays in CATS Unplugged.

When I came to Carson a little over a year ago, one statement echoed throughout my time speaking with staff, students, and families: Carson is not like any other high school; it’s special. Everyone who wears orange and blue knows that. So, while we recognize that we have work to do in light of the fact that our school performance this year earned a “C,” we are not worried. We know where we are going and what we have to do to get there. Our mission is clear: Jesse C. Carson High School will become the best high school in North Carolina!

Angelo DelliSanti is principal of Jesse C. Carson High School.

Editor’s note: Student performance grades for other Rowan-Salisbury high schools for 2014-15 were Early College, B; East Rowan, C; North Rowan, D; Salisbury, D; South Rowan, C; West Rowan, C.

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