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The Year in Education: Safety issues dominate, teachers rally

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Students hold balloons as kind words of the 17 Florida high school victims were read outside of the Pitt Community Early College Wednesday, March 14, 2018.

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The Daily Reflector

Thursday, December 27, 2018

School violence was prominent in the headlines in 2018. While Pitt County was spared from the shootings that have occurred on campuses in other parts of the country, it is part of a nationwide movement to making schools safer.

The Pitt County Board of Commissioners in May approved $988,000 to help fund the construction of secure corridors for schools in the county. The security measure was an effort to help protect students and staff in what has been called the worst year for school shootings.

The secure corridors feature a first set of doors that school office personnel must activate to allow a visitor inside. Once inside, the visitor will enter a waiting area of sorts where an attendant behind a bullet-proof glass station will be able to sign them in before allowing them entrance to the main building.

“This is really a first step,” Matt Johnson, director of facilities for Pitt County Schools, said “It really makes your entrances that much harder to get into and get past.”

Johnson also said the public should know that secure corridors are not a fix-all solution to school shootings that have plagued the country. A school in Sante Fe, Texas, where a shooting took place earlier in the year had a secure corridor entryway similar to the ones being installed in Pitt County Schools, as well as armed guards.

1. Students walk out

In response to a school shooting in Parkland, Fla., hundreds of students in Pitt County and thousands in North Carolina and states across the country participated in a National School Walkout in March.

The event was organized by a student branch of the Women’s March organization. All of the local events focused on the victims, but many students also used the occasion to call on political leaders to take action to help end school violence.

Remembrances and moments of silence were observed on the campuses of Pitt Community College, The Oakwood School, South Central, D.H. Conley, J.H. Rose and North Pitt high schools.

2. Teachers rally

Hundreds of teachers from eastern North Carolina joined thousands of their peers from across the state to fill the main street of the state capital in May, demanding better pay and more funding for public schools from legislators.

City blocks turned red, the color of shirts worn by marchers chanting “We care! We vote!” and “This is What Democracy Looks Like.”

An estimated 19,000 people braved occasional rain to join the march. Four charter buses carried more than 350 Pitt County teachers to the rally. The march prompted the cancellation of classes in three-dozen school districts — Pitt County included — that educate more than two-thirds of the state’s 1.5 million public school students.

The demands of the main advocacy group, the North Carolina Association of Educators, included raising per-pupil spending and pay for teachers and support staff to the national average, and increasing school construction to match the state’s population growth.

3. New school

The Innovation Early College High School at ECU, a partnership between Pitt County Schools and East Carolina University, opened its doors in August. The inaugural class included 55 incoming freshmen representing all six high school attendance areas within Pitt County Schools.

Educators, students and their families, along with members of the Board of Education and state and local government representatives, came out to celebrate the opening of the school, which was approved by the University of North Carolina system Board of Governors in March.

“The entire community wanted to see this happen,” Pitt County Schools Superintendent Ethan Lenker said.

Pitt County Early College High School, which holds classes on the campus of Pitt Community College, opened in the fall of 2015. That school, which admits 75 freshmen a year, gives students a chance to earn a high school diploma and two years of transferable college credit or an associate’s degree.

Like about 125 other cooperative high schools in the state, Pitt County’s early college high schools target students who would benefit from accelerated learning as well as first-generation college students and students who are considered at risk of dropping out of high school.

4. Early college high school honored

Pitt County Schools’ first early college program was honored in October by the federal program that promotes achievement among low-income students.

Pitt County Schools Early College High School was named a North Carolina National Distinguished Title I School, edging out 15 finalists. It is the only school in the school system’s history to receive this national distinction, said Lavette Ford, director of Federal Programs.

Title 1 Schools program provide school systems with extra instructional support to help low-achieving children meet state academic standards. A least 40 percent of a school’s students must be considered low-income to qualify for the program.

The National Title I Distinguished Schools program recognizes exemplary Title I Schools that hold students to high standards and demonstrate exemplary school effectiveness in teaching and learning.

In addition to the recognition, the school received a $12,500 monetary award. It also will be recognized at the National Title I Convention in Kansas City in February.

5. Chicod expansion

Chicod School unveiled a 61,000-square-foot expansion in February. The project that spanned more than 16 months aimed at giving the school, which was built in 1929, a much-needed face lift both in structure and in instruction.

“The students are now able to access the necessary technology, which beforehand was disabling us,” Principal Mike Pollard said. “Anybody who has been in our gymnasium, which was part of the original building that was built in 1929, and then tours our new facility, it’s like night and day.”

The expansion features a wing that holds 12 classrooms, a media center, a gym with locker rooms, retractable bleachers and six basketball hoops as well as an administrative suite. Additionally, a corridor entrance with added safety measures was built to ensure additional safety for staff and students.

The latest renovations to the school were the second installment of a three-phase project for Chicod. The third and final phase includes a new wing, cafeteria renovations and an additional 20,000 square feet of space. It is slated to begin by or before 2021.

6. School report cards

Report cards for Pitt County Public Schools, released in September, show general increase in school growth across the county.

The annual release of accountability model data by the North Carolina State Board of Education shows that of approximately three-dozen schools rated by the assessment, 27 met or exceeded growth standards for the year, with all but one receiving a passing grade. The data tracks the school’s performance through year-end testing, as well as growth from the previous year. These criteria are then combined to create a corresponding letter grade for each school.

The Pitt County Early College High School, earned an “A” letter grade. Six schools received a “B,” 12 received a “C” and 14 received a “D.” South Greenville Elementary received an “F.”

Most schools in the county retained their letter grade from the 2016-17 school year. Five schools — Bethel Elementary, Falkland Elementary, Grifton, G.R. Whitfield Elementary and W.H. Robinson Elementary — raised their scores high enough to ascend a letter grade. Another five schools — Elmhurst Elementary, Farmville Middle School, Farmville Central High, South Greenville Elementary and Wellcome Middle School — all dropped a letter grade.

South Greenville, which scored a 41 in 2016-17, dropped to a 38 during the last year, making it the lowest-scoring school in the county. The second lowest-scoring school was Falkland Elementary, which scored a 44, raising it a letter grade from the 36 score it received the year prior.

7. Restart schools

The start of school in August was a restart for two of Pitt County's public schools.

Falkland and Northwest elementary schools opened their doors for the 2018-19 school year as Restart schools, a designation the state Board of Education offers to help turn around low-performing schools. Grifton School also has been approved to be part of the Restart model beginning next year.

All three schools received grades of D or F on the North Carolina School Report Cards from 2015-17.

More than 100 schools across the state have been approved for Restart, which does not include additional funding but does allow schools more freedom in spending, as well as scheduling and programming.

Students at the county’s two Restart schools will have 10 more days of school than their peers at other Pitt County Schools. In addition, teachers at the two schools receive an 8 percent pay supplement, compared with 5.25 percent for other teachers in the district.

Falkland’s Restart involves a new coding and robotics program, which will introduce new technology instruction at every grade level. The school has designated a classroom near the entrance as a computer lab, and the media center has been stocked with electronic building blocks and engineering kits.

With flexibility in spending allowed under Restart, Northwest has added about $50,000 worth of new STEM equipment. Other changes include integrating schoolwide thematic units that extend to every class, including arts, and using a Montessori-like approach in the classroom that allows students to choose from among different learning activities designed to accomplish the same goals.

Perhaps the largest change will begin with reading instruction in lower grades. Students will be grouped by reading level rather than grade level, meaning that small groups of kindergartners, first- and second-graders will learn together in one classroom.

8. Board of Education election

November's election brought two new members to the Pitt County Board of Education.

In District 1, challenger Tracy Everette-Lentz unseated incumbent Robert Moore. In District 2, where Mildred Council did not seek re-election, Amy Cole was elected.

Cole, a Pitt Community College mathematics instructor, and Everette-Lenz, a school psychologist in Wilson County, are political newcomers.

Anna Barrett Smith was re-elected in District 5, and Caroline Doherty retained her seat in District 7.

Board members Mary Blount Williams, District 3; Betsy Flanagan, District 4; Worth Forbes, District 6; Melinda Fagundus, District 8; and Benjie Forrest, District 9 have terms that expire in 2020.

9. Lenker receives award

Pitt County Schools Superintendent Ethan Lenker was named the Regional Superintendent of the Year in June by the Northeast Regional Education Service Alliance.

“Lenker is well-known by his peers across the state as a leader in innovation and promoting high quality educational experiences for all students,” Dwayne Stallings, executive director of the Northeast RESA, said.

This is the second year in a row that Lenker has been selected as a regional superintendent of the year, with the selection coming from the Central Carolina RESA in 2017-2018.

The Northeast region consists of 16 school districts, including Pitt, Beaufort, Dare, Gates and Martin counties.

TOP STORIES of 2018

The Daily Reflector is looking back on the biggest stories of the year today through Jan. 2. This Series is divided into categories, as follows:

Wednesday: ECU sports

Today: Education

Friday: Arts & Entertainment

Saturday: Business & Industry

Sunday: Pitt County

Monday: ECU & PCC

Tuesday: City of Greenville

Wednesday: Crime & Rescue

Coming tomorrow

It was a good year for the downtown Greenville area as many businesses expanded their already successful spaces, new businesses emerged and new artwork and opportunities were displayed in the district.

Follow the series online at reflector.com.

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