THE DAILY SOUTHERNER
“Raising the bar” is a major focus of Edgecombe County Public Schools, superintendent John Farrelly told the board of education in a Monday work session presentation on the Excellent Public Schools Act. He said the act, passed on June 4, 2012, brings “very important possible shifts in how we do business” and highlighted key points of the legislation.
One of the main objectives of the act is to improve the literacy rates of children in kindergarten through third grade. Beginning in 2014, third graders not demonstrating grade-level reading proficiency must go to summer reading camps, where they will have the opportunity to take the test again at the end of the camp. Parents have the option of not sending their children to summer camp, but the child will automatically be retained if they do not attend.
“If they don’t pass the test at the end of the summer, they have an option of going into a combination third/fourth grade classroom,” Farrelly said. “That will affect our allotments and how we position teachers in certain roles.”
School performance grades are another point of emphasis in the act. All public schools in North Carolina will receive a grade of “A,” “B,” “C,” “D,” or “F” starting at the end of this school year. The Department of Public Instruction has asked the General Assembly to include a “growth” component in the grading of the schools, Farrelly told the board. Teachers will be measured on the growth of their students as part of the state’s new accountability model.
“That would be an important component for us locally,” Farrelly said. “It could be the difference between having three or four ‘D’ schools locally or having three or four ‘C’ schools locally.”
Maximizing instructional time is another component of the act. At its February meeting, the board voted on a calendar for the 2013-2014 school year with the maximum number of instructional days (185) and hours (1,025), Farrelly noted.
“The school district implemented a new bell schedule this year,” Farrelly told the board. “We did extend the school day in some spots by 15 or 20 minutes.”
The act also calls for the establishment of a North Carolina Teacher Corps, which would place recent graduates of colleges and universities in low-performing and high-need schools.
“This could be a real positive,” said Farrelly. He said he believes the corps has the potential to “build up the teaching capacity” of the district.
Strengthening teacher licensure requirements is another component of the act. Farrelly sees that component as yet another opportunity to improve student literacy.
“I’m very interested in getting all our teachers reading certified,” he stated.
Pay for excellence is another tenet of the act. Farrelly expressed mixed feelings about those types of incentives, voicing concern that singling out teachers for bonuses could “break down the compass and the culture (of collaboration) that we’re trying to create in our schools.” The district currently has a signing bonus for special education, math and science teachers, which are hard-to-staff subject areas, Farrelly said.
Teacher contracts are another part of the act. Farrelly said all existing tenured teachers in the district would be grandfathered in to the contracts.
While the goal of the act is positive, “raising the bar,” Farrelly voiced concern about funding for the mandates in this tough budget year.
“It’d be nice if funding came along with some of these initiatives,” he said.