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Change comes to Bertie County Schools

WINDSOR – In a recent wide-ranging interview, Bertie County Schools’ Superintendent Dr. Chip Zullinger and Finance Officer Pearline Bunch talked about the vast changes in the district.

During the interview, Dr. Zullinger and Bunch talked about innovative programs that will be offered to students from Pre-K through recent high school graduates.

One of the key changes involves the possibility for high school graduates in the county to enter a college program and work at the same time.

As many as 20 Bertie High School graduates can become Shaw University cadets in August. Those who become cadets will have the opportunity to work for Bertie County Schools during the day while attending school at night to obtain a degree in education.

“We haven’t worked out the specifics of what they will be doing,” Dr. Zullinger said of the daytime duties of these college students. “More than likely it will not be in the traditional teacher assistant role.

“We want them in contact with great teachers early on and we have great teachers,” he said.

Bunch said the cadets would earn a salary of $18,000 per year during the four years of college and would receive full benefits, including retirement.

“We will have people eligible to retire at age 47 with full benefits,” Bunch said. “There is probably not another program like this anywhere.”

The Teacher Education Program will be housed at the former Southwestern Middle School. Shaw University will provide the instruction for the students in the evening, allowing the cadets to become certified in science, English, math or special education.

“All of those are areas where it is difficult to find teachers,” Dr. Zullinger said.

In addition to being paid during the four years as an employee of Bertie County Schools, the students will not have to pay college tuition. Bertie County will foot the bill at a budgeted cost of $680,000 for the program.

In exchange, the students commit to teach in Bertie County’s public schools for five years.

The program will continue with hopes of adding 20 additional students each year.

“Once we get to the point that we can figure out the financing for a full cohort of 80 students, we should be able to sustain it,” Bunch said.

Dr. Zullinger said the program was important to Bertie County Schools.

“Nothing hurts instruction more than not having a certified teacher in a classroom,” he said. “On average on two of every five days there is a classroom without a teacher in Bertie County Schools.”

The superintendent said there were two English classrooms vacant for more than two months last year.

“That’s how critical it is to stop the bleeding and get fully certified teachers in the classroom,” he said.

The program came about thanks in large part to current Board of Education member Emma H. Johnson.

“Mrs. Johnson went to Shaw and from day one wanted me to meet Dr. Clarence Newsome, the president of Shaw,” Dr. Zullinger said. “When I did, this (Teacher Education Program) was the result of our discussions.”

Dr. Zullinger said he was hoping the partnership was the beginning of a K-16 school district in Bertie County.

“We are having conversations about creating a K-16 school system,” Dr. Zullinger said. “We would like to give people the opportunity to go all the way through school, including college and stay in Bertie County.”

He said he knew of no model for the possible K-16 district, but that he believed Bertie County and Shaw could lead the way.

“This would be a unique model,” he said. “I believe Bertie County is a unique place and I believe Shaw is a unique institution.”