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Rising sophs will remain at Southwestern

WINDSOR – The current ninth graders enrolled in Bertie County’s public school system will not be moving.

Bertie County Schools Superintendent Dr. Chip Zullinger confirmed earlier this week that a combination of factors would result in those rising tenth graders being kept on the campus of the former Southwestern Middle School.

“With the leadership we now have in place at Bertie High School, there is no issue about sending them over,” he said. “The problem is that we want to do some major renovations to Bertie High School.

“We’re also rebuilding the curriculum of Bertie High from the ground up,” he added.

Last fall, Bertie County Schools opened the Ninth Grade Academy on the former Southwestern campus and placed William Peele III as the school’s principal.

“Mr. Peele has not let up on the students there,” Dr. Zullinger said. “He has pushed them academically and I believe that will continue next year when the ninth and tenth grades are on campus.”

As for rebuilding the curriculum, the superintendent said students were taking approximately 45 percent more academic courses in ninth grade this year than a year ago.

A sampling of students revealed that in 2008-09, each took four academic courses compared to this year when those students took a minimum of five with at least one student having taken seven academic courses. That student took two sciences, English, history, Geometry, another math course and Spanish in her freshman year.

“That’s a fundamental shift,” Dr. Zullinger said. “I don’t know of any high school in North Carolina that is trying to do that.”

The superintendent said at the pace those students were taking, at the end of next year as they prepare to enter the Bertie High School main campus those students would have approximately 90 percent of their graduation requirements complete.

“If we are able to get them to that point, we can offer our eleventh and twelfth graders more choices and our teachers more latitude as they teach,” Dr. Zullinger said.

Carol Atkins, who is Executive Director of Curriculum for the school district, said students leaving the tenth grade would, as an example, have completed all maths through Pre-Calculus when they enter their junior year. That would mean in their first four semesters of high school, they would have completed Algebra I, Algebra II, Geometry, Advanced Functions and Modeling and Pre-Calculus.

In the science curriculum, students will possibly have completed Physical Science, Earth Environmental Science, Biology and Chemistry.

“Having the students complete these courses early will challenge the school system to have higher-level courses for them to complete during their junior and senior years,” Atkins said.

That higher level of academics could come in the form of AP (Advanced Placement) courses, organic chemistry and social studies courses such as 21st Century Warfare or Constitutional Government.

In addition to those types of courses, Dr. Zullinger said he wanted to see the district at a point where they could reintroduce a substantial vocational education instrument.

“We keep hearing from the community a need to be back into that business,” he said.

Atkins said to that end, the district had already added Early Childhood Education I and Computer Programming I with the intention of adding a second level of both courses next year.

The school district administrators said measures would be in place to make sure students continued their education rather than using their final two years to loaf.

“Once we get them started on that track, they’ll have to continue on it,” said District Transformation Coach Tonya Horton.

Atkins said the University of North Carolina admissions standards would also require students to continue pushing through their academic requirements.

“Expectations are changing too,” Horton said.

Dr. Zullinger added that students would no longer be able to make out their schedule “willy-nilly” without input from administrators and teachers who would help make sure they were moving along to higher level courses.

“Also, as we rehire teachers, we will be working to add higher level courses and teachers and getting rid of junky courses,” the superintendent stressed.