By MIRANDA BAINES
THE DAILY SOUTHERNER
As School Superintendent John Farrelly reflects on his first year of leadership at Edgecombe County Public Schools, he is pleased with the district’s accomplishments and confident with the direction it is headed.
“I feel really good about the direction we’re going and over the course of the next four to six years, we’re going to have significant gains in all of our schools,” Farrelly said. “That interest in being part of significant change, that’s one of the reasons I wanted to be here. It’s an opportunity for me to provide great leadership and be part of something special.”
When he accepted the job last summer, Farrelly knew the challenges facing ECPS. Among them were having three of the lowest performing elementary schools in North Carolina. Farrelly faced similar challenges as superintendent of Washington County Public Schools, and saw student proficiency levels at two low-performing schools climb from 49-50 percent to 75 percent under his leadership.
“I think it’s about creating high expectations. I do think we can make a huge difference in the lives of children,” Farrelly said. “Regardless of what street kids live on or what their last name is, every kid in Edgecombe County deserves a great education.”
Creating those high expectations by holding teachers accountable for their students’ achievement and building up leadership capacity in the district are among Farrelly’s strategies for raising student proficiency levels.
“We’ve got significant amounts of steps we need to take in terms of student achievement and that takes time,” Farrelly said. "I’ve spent the year trying to establish what the needs are for all the (14) schools, thinking about leadership capacity. My goal is to have 14 fantastic principals. We have five principal openings right now. It’s a chance for us to find excellent principals and people we can count on for a significant amount of time.”
Along with providing professional development opportunities for teacher and administrators, Farrelly has led the district in developing pacing guides for students based on the new curriculum. Additionally, the “top teachers” in the district are working through the summer to develop model lesson plans, said Farrelly.
“We’re trying to look at lesson plans that are innovative and that are engaging for our students,” he said. He noted that the district is also committed to increasing students’ access to technology.
Another of Farrelly’s priorities is to engage the community in the education of the county’s students. Farrelly involved parents and key community members in a leadership academy last summer to create a new vision for the district and specific strategies to accomplish that vision.
“We had great success with our stakeholders that were involved in the revisioning of our district,” Farrelly said.
The superintendent has joined civic organizations in an effort to get to know the community, as well. Farrelly said he also appreciates the positive working relationship he has with the board of education and the board’s support of his vision for the district.
ECPS has not experienced “sustained leadership” in recent years, with the arrival and departure of several superintendents, and that is what Farrelly wants to bring.
“My family and I absolutely love the community and we feel like this is definitely a place that we want to be long term,” he said.
As the leader of the school district, Farrelly plans to continue to put students’ needs first and provide students with a “well-rounded education,” with the ultimate goal of raising student achievement. His hope is that the growth in student achievement will result in more students coming back to the county’s public schools.
“Every day brings challenges, so I try to be a positive leader with a lot of energy," he said. I think there’s an energy in the community, feeling like we’re going in the right direction.” Today is the last day of the 2012-2013 school year for ECPS students. The 2013-2014 school year begins Aug. 26.