Whale droppings are rising

Published 12:00 am Thursday, March 9, 2006

We are waist deep in whale droppings.

I hope you do understand where whale droppings are located.

If the State Board of Education and State Schools Superintendent follow the advice of Judge Howard Manning, then Hertford County High School will not open for the start of the 2006-07 academic year.

Ditto for Bertie High School.

Ditto for Northampton County High School-West.

Ditto for 41 other low-performing high schools across North Carolina that are on Judge Manning’s list.

It seems that the judge is a bit miffed over the fact that after four years of attempts to ensure that each and every child has the right to attend a public school where they are guaranteed under the North Carolina Constitution an equal opportunity to obtain a sound and basic education, there are 44 high schools in our state not living up to minimum standards.

Unfortunately for us, three of those schools, as mentioned earlier, are here in the Roanoke-Chowan area.

After reading each and every word and pouring over each statistical attachment in Judge Manning’s 34-page report, I have reached the conclusion that he is dead serious over this issue.

Jackson, Windsor and Winton….we have a problem.

Composite test scores for Bertie, HCHS and Northampton-West are not reaching even the minimum standards. Of that group, Bertie had the highest composite score for the 2004-05 school year where 53.2 percent of its students performed at grade level. HCHS checked in at 48.3 percent while West stood at 46.4 percent.

Sadly, what that boils down to is roughly 50 percent or less of our high school graduates are prepared to tackle a technology-advanced 21st century job market. It’s no wonder we struggle when it comes to attracting major industries in our area. They won’t locate here because the majority of our students lack the essential educational skills.

That hurts not only from a standpoint of keeping our children at home where they can earn a decent salary, but the apparent failure of our local secondary education system erodes our tax base because new industry is afraid to invest in our neck of the woods. The presence of good paying jobs strengthens the local economy as those workers will spend their paychecks on local goods and services.

What hurts even more is that Judge Manning’s ruling didn’t just magically appear.

Our local educators learned of the Leandro Act in 2002. Through Judge Manning’s interpretation of the North Carolina Constitution, every child in the state should be afforded a basic education in public schools led by well-trained and competent principals whose jobs include attracting and retaining competent, certified and well-trained teachers.

Apparently, our local educational leaders saw this as a way to leverage the General Assembly for more funding. Apparently, that worked as, according to Judge Manning’s report, the 44 lowest-performing high schools in the state received a shade over $268 million to educate a total of 44,000 children. By comparison, the 44 highest-performing high schools in the state were given $254.4 million to educate their combined 47,500 children. In other words, the better schools spent less money to educate more students.

Where’s the bang for our bucks (and I say our bucks because these monies are generated by taxpayer dollars)?

If my memory serves me correct, the General Assembly did approve additional education funds a few years back for low-performing schools. I think our local counties were the recipients of added funds in the neighborhood of $700,000-$900,000.

How was this money spent? Apparently not in an all-out blitz to improve composite test scores at three local high schools.

I’m not in the education business, so maybe I’m not qualified to address this problem. But yet, in a way, I am in the education business. As a newspaper journalist, it’s my job to collect information and use it to write fact-based articles in order to educate our readers of the events that are shaping the Roanoke-Chowan area.

Maybe the thought process behind this column is nothing more than a knee-jerk reaction to a letter penned by a judge to state educational officials. But to be downright honest, Judge Manning’s remarks scared the bejeevers out of me.

What will we do if the state follows his suggestion and closes three of our local high schools? Where will these 2,500-or-so kids go? What will they do?

We need some answers and we need ‘em quick. Judge Manning’s clock is ticking and the whale droppings are approaching our collective chins.