Change proves positive at Bertie County Schools

Published 6:43 pm Tuesday, October 7, 2008

WINDSOR – Dr. Chip Zullinger spent his weekend studying.

The second-year Superintendent of Bertie County Schools took time to delve into data that he found intriguing about the school district he leads.

“Our 10-year enrollment trend has been a steady decline,” Dr. Zullinger told the Bertie County Board of Education Monday night. “It probably dates back further, but the data I was able to find only goes back for 10 years.”

That trend stopped abruptly in September.

“This year our enrollment rose two percent,” he said. “I don’t know if I know why that is, but I do have speculation points.”

The superintendent said he believed the changes made in the school district, particularly with students in alternative settings and the multiple high school settings were making a difference.

To outline the educational transformation within the system, the superintendent gave a brief report of the changes made in the past year and the progress shown on standardized test data.

Dr. Zullinger showed the board graphs that displayed an increase in the number of schools making Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) in the school system. In 2007, the district had one school make AYP and that is the now closed C.G. White Middle School.

Last year, the district had three schools make AYP. They were Aulander Elementary School, West Bertie Elementary School and the now defunct Bertie Academy.

Dr. Zullinger said he was pleased, but work remained to be done to get all schools in the district to meet AYP.

“We were especially pleased because it is the first time ever West Bertie has made AYP,” Dr. Zullinger stressed.

The superintendent then outlined the changes made to Bertie High School. According to his data, Bertie High School had 975 students (9-12) during the 2007-08 school year with 45 students at the STEM School (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics), and 43 at the Bertie Academy.

This year, the traditional Bertie High School has just 572 students enrolled in grades 10 through 12. An additional 129 students are at the STEM School and 161 at the Bertie Freshman Academy. Students are also enrolled at Uplift Academy (20), The Hive (21), Reclamation (15) and the Early College High School (9).

“In its second year, STEM has obviously become an interesting choice to some students and their parents,” Dr. Zullinger said. “That, combined with the other alternatives, has precipitated a dramatic down-sizing of blocks of students in one place.”

Dr. Zullinger said the changes came about in large part due to the New Schools Project and the Gates Foundation. They have both emphasized the need for smaller schools and smaller class sizes.

“We have definitely embraced that strategy here in Bertie County Schools,” Dr. Zullinger said. “I think we are beginning to see the outcomes of that.”

One of those outcomes has been an increase in the number of students taking higher-level math courses in the district. In the first semester, enrollment in Algebra I is up 45 percent while enrollment in Algebra II has increased by 35 percent. Geometry enrollment has increased by 18 percent.

Dr. Zullinger also gave data about the decline in discipline in the first month of school. There were a total of 10 incidents in 2007 and only five in 2008.

“This is very good news,” Board of Education Chairman Rickey Freeman said after Dr. Zullinger concluded. “I think sometimes people are afraid of change, but this proves change is good.”

At the end of the meeting, each board member took time to address the information presented by the superintendent.

“I think we have seen evidence that we are on the right track,” Vice Chairman Alton H. Parker said. “Smaller environments and more one-on-one interaction with teachers helps students achieve better.”

Parker said he believed the alternative settings such as The Hive were allowing the district to keep more of its students enrolled and would eventually reduce the drop-out rate.

He credited Dr. Zullinger, his administrative staff and the principals for making the success possible.

“We have followed the lead of our superintendent and it shows he has us heading in the right direction,” Parker said. “It shows how good leadership can take us to where we want to be.”

He also stressed the future would be bright for the district.

“We are keeping students in school and off the streets,” Parker said. “They are getting their education and they are going to be a valuable part of our future.”

Board member Emma Johnson also commended the staff and superintendent for their work and said she was excited about what the future held. Board members Gloria C. Lee and Melinda J. Eure also expressed their appreciation to the superintendent for the report and the data it contained.