Grant benefits Bertie STEM

Published 7:11 pm Wednesday, October 15, 2008

WINDSOR – Bertie STEM will benefit from a share of a half-million dollar grant made by GlaxoSmithKline (GSK).

The Bertie School of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) will receive approximately $15,000 to be used for professional development as part of the $515,000 grant to the North Carolina New Schools Project (NCNSP), a non-profit organization which promotes high school innovation statewide.

“According to what I’ve read, this money will be used for consulting help that will be provided by the state,” said Dr. Chip Zullinger, superintendent of Bertie County Schools. “This will help us continue to retrain teachers and administrators at the STEM School.”

Dr. Zullinger said the consulting help would likely come from state or national consultants that have already been aiding the school.

“There have been high-quality folks that have provided training from the new schools project in the past and I anticipate this will follow that same order,” Dr. Zullinger said.

The new $515,000 will subsidize a quarter of NCNSP’s assistance to 10 schools statewide, which are in their second year enrolling students. It will specifically offer a consultant to work to improve the science and math curriculum.

The grant increases GlaxoSmithKline’s support for high school innovations and follows an earlier $300,000 gift to the new schools project.

Dr. Zullinger said he was pleased to have a company like GSK support the STEM School.

“I’m particularly pleased that GlaxoSmithKline has become a corporate partner,” the superintendent insisted. “They are one of the best pharmaceutical operations in the country. To know they’re involved, it helps show that the curriculum is geared towards our kids getting jobs like those offered by GlaxoSmithKline.”

“As a company steeped in scientific advances and a global competitor that needs a highly skilled workforce here in North Carolina, GlaxoSmithKline understands that teaching and learning in our high schools needs to change,” said Burley Mitchell, chairman of NCNSP’s board of directors and former chief justice of the North Carolina Supreme Court. “As a corporate citizen, GSK’s commitment to high school innovation across the state has been unmatched.”

“GlaxoSmithKline anticipates amazing results due to the high school innovation being sparked by the North Carolina New Schools Project, as they facilitate graduating students who are ready for the knowledge-based economy,” said Mary Linda Andrews, GlaxoSmithKline director of community partnerships. “GSK has a long history in North Carolina and we are pleased to be able to partner with cutting edge schools and school districts pushing forward STEM education. A strong education system is essential for our company and our employees and their families. The New Schools Project is the right partner. ”

While the 10 STEM schools are still very new and innovation in them remains a work in progress, they are showing some promising early results:

Bertie STEM saw just one student drop out last year, for an approximate dropout rate of 1.6 percent. In all, the 10 STEM high schools last year reported a combined attrition rate by “early leavers” (likely dropouts) of 2 percent, compared to an early-leaver rate of 7 percent in high schools in their districts with student populations similar to those in the STEM schools. Historically, schools’ early leaver rates have correlated closely with their eventual annual dropout rates.

Bertie STEM reported an attendance rate of 97 percent, while the comparison high schools had an average attendance rate of 92.4 percent. Attendance is an important gauge of student engagement and eventual graduation.

77 percent of teachers in the schools “strongly agree” with the statement, “My school is a good place to teach and learn,” on the state’s teacher working conditions survey compared to just 36 percent in comparison high schools.

Five of the 10 STEM schools met or exceeded targets for academic gains set for their school by the state, compared to three of the comparison high schools. The state has not yet released passing rates on the End-of-Course tests for the 2007-08 school year.

Bertie STEM Principal G.F. Mitchell said he was pleased with the investment made by GSK.

“The New Schools Project is exciting,” Mitchell said. “I think this grant will help us as we continue our focus on science, technology, engineering and mathematics.”

Dr. Zullinger said the new schools project was definitely working in Bertie County.

“I’m really pleased with our STEM School,” he said. “Through Mr. Mitchell’s leadership, we’ve got more students that want to attend STEM than we have desks for them to sit at. They have done a good job of making it a real option for our students and their parents.”

The North Carolina New Schools Project is working with 10 innovative schools and 92 others across the state to transform teaching and learning in smaller, more focused and highly personalized settings.