Partnership forms to train teachers

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, January 23, 2008

WINDSOR – &uot;Grow your own.&uot;

That’s what Bertie County Schools may soon be doing to recruit and retain teachers within the school system.

In a presentation to a crowded boardroom and to the school board itself, Bertie County Schools Superintendent Dr. Chip Zullinger outlined that plan Tuesday night.

&uot;One of our biggest challenges is getting teachers in the classrooms and keeping them there,&uot; he began.

To remedy that, Zullinger and Shaw University are proposing a partnership.

Starting this school year, 20 of the best and brightest graduating seniors from Bertie High School will be selected to enter the program in the fall to get their teaching degree.

While attending college with all expenses paid, the selected students will also be paid a full salary ($25,000) as employees of Bertie County Schools (BCS), and upon graduation from Shaw University they would be required to stay in Bertie County and teach for no less than five years.

Zullinger continued, &uot;What we’re talking about tonight is not a little plan… what we’re starting here is the seed of something; it has the opportunity to be truly good for the community.&uot;

Teacher turnover rates for BCS are currently among the highest in the state. Bertie ranks in the top 10 out of North Carolina’s 115 school districts – and that isn’t a good &uot;Top 10&uot; list to be on.

According to Zullinger’s statistics, one out of three teachers with BCS leave before the end of the first school year.

One classroom in four lost a teacher to another school district this year and then it was a minimum of 45 days to find another replacement – that’s if one was even possible.

Zullinger said that every week, on average, two out of five days are spent without qualified teachers in the classroom.

He acknowledged that the program will take a significant portion of the school system’s budget, but he believes it is a necessary step.

&uot;We’re not at a place as a school district to be worried about program implementation when we don’t even have teachers; it’s very fundamental,&uot; he said.

Zullinger is proposing to begin by selecting 20 of this year’s graduating seniors to enroll in a new Shaw University – Bertie Campus in the fall. Every year after that, 20 more students will be selected for the next year’s cycle.

The reason for selecting Bertie High School students, according to Zullinger, is the opportunity to get fresh, enthusiastic students who are already familiar with the county.

&uot;We will do prescreening for bright, diverse students,&uot; he said. &uot;The ability to participate in this program will pull students through high school with a mission to be stronger students in order to qualify to become a teacher cadet.&uot;

Zullinger also answered the question of why selecting Shaw as the university where the teacher cadets will be trained.

&uot;Shaw has deep, historic roots in this region and in Bertie County. It’s the first predominately African American university in the south and it’s a private school so there are no bureaucratic entanglements. Their president is also from here, so he understands our needs,&uot; he explained.

The total cost to the school system for the program for the first year will run to $680,000 and will increase by that amount until the fourth year when it will peak at about $2.7 million dollars.

That amount represents seven percent of the school system’s current annual budget.

&uot;If this is our predominant need – and I think it is – then this is what we need to focus on. We need to be willing to lay other things down and focus on this, our greatest need,&uot; Zullinger stressed.

He revealed that he and Pearline Bunch, Bertie County Finance Officer, had discussed financing options and they had discovered a way to finance the first two years of the program with the existing budget.

Currently, the school system spends $280,000 a year just in substitute teachers.

&uot;We can deploy these kids (teacher cadets) now to start taking care of some of that,&uot; Zullinger suggested.

He concluded, &uot;I hope tonight is a beginning of how to make things better, not just for our kids, but for the whole fabric of the community.&uot;

Dr. Clarence Newsome, President of Shaw University, was also present at the meeting along with three of his Vice-Presidents.

&uot;This is the kind of thing that I believe will work very well for our mission (to teach),&uot; he stated.

Newsome continued, &uot;The one thing that overcomes race, gender and social barriers is having qualified teachers in the classroom. We are excited about this project at Shaw University and would come to it with 200 percent effort.&uot;

Newsome himself graduated from Ahoskie High School and went on to obtain three degrees from Duke University before obtaining a teaching position there as well.

&uot;I came from a place with no resources too, but I made it to where I am through qualified teachers, and students can do the same here,&uot; he said.

After the presentation and Newsome’s comments, board members offered their reactions.

&uot;We want you to help us,&uot; school board Chairman Rickey Freeman told Shaw officials.

Board member Emma Johnson, a Shaw graduate, said, &uot;I’m so happy that Shaw University wanted to make a move to help Bertie County Schools.&uot;

Other board members echoed those sentiments.

Zullinger further stated that in regards to where Shaw University’s Bertie campus would be located, there had been discussions of either utilizing part of the C.G. White facility or the former Southwestern Middle School.

&uot;Either of those facilities we could make available to them. Southwestern offers more possibilities; it has great potential as a college campus site,&uot; he said.

Newsome also revealed there may be opportunity for students to travel while attending college.

&uot;This is a project with a Bertie County focus, but with a global view. We want them to be able to travel other places,&uot; he stated.

Zullinger added that with the many teacher vacancies in just a single year, it is a project that needs immediate attention.

&uot;With 50 teacher vacancies a year, we can’t get these kids graduated from college fast enough,&uot; he said.

Several county officials were also at the meeting. Chairman of the Bertie County Commissioners Norman Cherry offered his own opinion during and afterward.

&uot;This is an excellent opportunity for the area and for area people to have the opportunity to go to school and for the county to grow its own,&uot; Cherry said later.

He continued, &uot;I believe this will be successful… it’s an excellent idea and an opportunity for people to begin to think outside the box. We have to start doing things differently from the ways of many years ago if we’re going to move forward and succeed.&uot;

&uot;The people involved (Shaw) understand the culture of Bertie County so they are better able to teach students from here, for here,&uot; he added.

Board member Alton Parker had earlier remarked, &uot;This is a pilot program and we are under the microscope. We need to think outside the box and go forward, but it’s going to take everybody working together to make it work.&uot;