School leader outlines past, future

Published 12:00 am Monday, March 1, 2004

AULANDER – John F. Smith Sr., Superintendent of Bertie County Public Schools, delivered his annual &uot;State of Public Education Address&uot; here Feb. 24 at the Aulander Community Building.

A crowd of approximately 80 attended.

The theme of the fact-filled address was to answer the question – &uot;Can I make a difference?&uot;

Smith noted, in fact, that one person can make a difference, alluding to the likes of Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King Jr. and Mother Teresa. However, he said that you don’t have to be famous to make a difference. Smith said that as we reminisce about those who have influenced our lives, a teacher is often mentioned as one person that can make a difference.

The Superintendent pointed to the current standards within the state’s ABCs of Public Education where the bottom line is accountability.

&uot;Not one decision in the public school system should be made unless we have and use appropriate data,&uot; stressed Smith as he outlined where Bertie schools had been, where they are today and what choices need to be made that’s right for tomorrow.

&uot;The data and figures you’ll see today will help us build the map to the future,&uot; he noted.

Using a PowerPoint presentation, Smith reviewed the data, facts and figures from the 2002-03 school year.

Citing the ABCs of Public Education, Smith said the program, with an emphasis on high educational standards and maximum local control, sets growth and performance standards for each elementary, middle and high school. End-of-Grade and End-of-Course test results and other selected components are used to measure a school’s overall growth and performance.

During the 2002-03 school year, two Bertie schools – Askewville Elementary and West Bertie Elementary – received &uot;Schools of Distinction&uot; status, signifying that each had at least 80 percent of students at or above grade level.

The county also had five &uot;Schools of Progress&uot; – Aulander, Colerain, J.P. Law and Windsor elementary schools as well as C.G. White Middle School. Each had at least 70 percent of their students at or above grade level.

Southwestern Middle School saw their scores rise by 6.7 percent (to 72.2 percent) while over 50 percent of Bertie High School students tested at or above grade level. That marked a 9.7 percent increase over the 2001-02 school year.

In addition, Smith said that five of Bertie’s 10 public schools met the standards of the &uot;No Child Left Behind&uot; legislation signed into law in 2001 by President Bush. NCLB sets a more rigorous score standard and each student is expected to reach that goal.

Smith noted that two neighboring counties – Chowan and Hertford – had no schools to meet NCLB standards. He also noted that Bertie placed fifth when compared to the 20 school systems in the northeastern part of the state.

&uot;We’re not where we want to be, but we’re very proud of the results for the first (NCLB) year,&uot; stated Smith.

The Superintendent then addressed SAT scores, noting that data showed Bertie students had gained 42 points on the state average since 1994. Last year’s SAT average score in the county was 790.

He then went on to point out that Bertie schools received $1.076 million in grant funding during 2002-03. For the current year, some $4.4 million in grants is pending.

Smith informed his audience that Bertie Schools have a number of &uot;More-At-Four&uot; Pre-K programs. Those programs, initiated by Gov. Mike Easley, are in place at Aulander, Colerain, J.P. Law and West Bertie and in the Even Start program at Windsor Elementary. They are designed to prepare at-risk four-year-olds for success. Emphasis is placed on literacy, numbers, physical/fine motor skills development and problem solving.

In an overview of the county’s Visual Arts and Music programs, Smith pointed out that the Bertie High School Marching Band had earned first-place trophies in two national events.

Some of the most significant data he presented came in Student Services. That presentation showed that out-of-school suspensions decreased by 47 percent, the lowest rate in the area. Meanwhile, the county’s student drop-out rate declined to just over five percent, on par with the state average.

The Superintendent noted the strength of the system’s professional services. He said that school system employees work nights and on Saturdays conducting workshops to make sure the teaching staff has the latest information available to take back to fellow teachers and into the classroom.

Smith did not overlook the nutrition programs in the system – noting that nearly one million meals (breakfast and lunch) were served during 2002-03.

Another area that Smith was extremely proud of is Service Learning, one that has earned high marks from the state. He said that all 10 schools participated in this program, serving 1,575 students with 196 adult volunteers. A total of 21,304 hours of service – teaching various computer and Internet technology skills – were provided to the communities in the county.

In 2002-03, the school system’s Health Program ranked sixth in the region and 10th in the state for services offered to the student population. The program employs five nurses to cover 10 schools. Prior to the implementation of the program in March, 2000, the ratio of nurses to students was one to over 3,000. Last year that rate was one to 687.

Smith presented facts on the Bertie County Public Schools Foundation. Since its inception in September, 2001, the Foundation has raised over $70,000. Over the past two years, 26 deserving Bertie High School seniors received $1,000 scholarships through the Foundation. The Foundation also provides financial incentives for teachers and students to attend workshops, conferences and summer camps.

The Superintendent also touted Bertie’s AIG (Academically or Intellectually Gifted) program. Last year, one AIG student attended the Governor’s School while several others attended programs sponsored by Duke University.

In his closing statement, Smith said that a number of programs have been put in place to ensure continued progress in academic growth. Among these is Teen Court at the high school, which will help keep students in school and learning rather than being placed in the juvenile justice system. Another is a partnership with Media Com, the local cable TV company, that will allow Bertie County to have its own educational channel to provide students, parents, staff and the community unfettered access to educational programming, 24 hours per day, seven days per week.

Another key element is the $4 million QZAB (Quality Zone Academy Bonds) funds that will be spent to provide all six elementary schools with extensive renovations to make the school environment safer and more conducive to academic achievement.

A Freshman Academy is in place at the high school to ensure a smooth transition for at-risk ninth-graders.

&uot;The kind of significant, sustained school improvement needed in the public schools of Bertie County will not occur in an isolated, free-lance culture, where no one knows what the other is doing,&uot; concluded Smith. &uot;Therefore, I ask each of you to take the lead in helping our schools provide the best education possible for all of our students. We must be proactive, we must be innovative, and we must continually search for ways and means to make sure our students are getting everything they deserve.&uot;