Bertie takes huge step

Published 11:43 am Saturday, August 15, 2009

WINDSOR – Good news continues to roll in for Bertie County Schools.

In the wake of their best testing year in recent history, district officials were informed Wednesday that the system has worked its way out of the Improvement status.

“It’s a good step for our school system,” said Dr. Chip Zullinger, superintendent of Bertie County Schools. “It will give us the independence to be able to make our own decisions. A lot of the sanctions were about the state telling us how to spend money and what our priorities were.”

Bertie County Schools, Whiteville City Schools, Granville County Schools and Montgomery County Schools were the four districts who exited Improvement status after 2008-09.

Bertie’s District Transformation Coach, Tonya Horton, said Bertie began last year with sanctions at Level Four. There are six levels of sanctions ranging from one (a corrective action plan) to level six when the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction (DPI) can restructure the school district.

“Bertie was Level Four which required them to set aside 10 percent of Title One funds for professional development provided by the state agency and a detailed plan of how to be removed from sanctions,” Horton said.

Horton said she was surprised the district moved out of sanctions after just one year as a Transformation District. Becoming a Transformation District was a joint effort between Bertie County Schools and DPI because the system was low-wealth and low-performing. Horton coming to the county was part of the transformation process.

Horton accredited the change to the district’s use of data.

“I think the first initiative – looking at data management – was where the district had a focus,” Horton said. “The focus on the student level really made a difference. It wasn’t just a school had this composite score, but it was what did this child do in this teacher’s classroom.

“The district was very targeted when looking at data,” she said. “They also did a good job of matching curriculum to that data. Our next step is to focus resources on the curriculum based on that data.”

Horton said she was pleased with the district being removed from sanctions

“I knew it was possible, but it was a surprise because they were Level Four which means they have been in sanctions for a long time,” she said. “I did know the change was possible because everyone (from the school board on down) was committed to making it happen.”

Dr. Zullinger said he believed the commitment was there when he arrived in the district and said he was thankful for the support he had received.

“Our board of education has been so strong,” Dr. Zullinger said. “Ever since I’ve been here, they have been about teachers and giving those teachers resources. They have also stressed accountability and making sure there were measures for success.

“The school board has pushed us in this direction and also we have received incredible support from our county commissioners,” he added. “In addition to that, I inherited some very talented administrators and they have worked their heads off for the last couple of years in my opinion.”

Dr. Zullinger also credited Horton’s work as one of the reasons the district was focused.

As the district moves forward, Horton said she hopes they will continue to improve.

“I want to see Bertie County continue to improve and continue to meet AYP (Adequate Yearly Progress),” she said. “This year the high school and the academy failed to meet AYP and we want them to next year. We also want all schools in the district to move to priority status and beyond.”

Dr. Zullinger agreed.

“We’re just barely out of the woods right now,” he said. “We’re moving toward the top tier of districts in the northeast, but I want to push our achievement levels at least 20 points higher than they are now. That’s doable.

“We’ve laid the foundation that will bear fruit for us in the coming years,” Dr. Zullinger continued. “The expanded More at Four program will help us for sure in the future.”

A total of 60 districts are in the Improvement Status with one being there for the sixth year, eight for the fifth and 10 for the fourth. Two new districts have been designated – Asheville City Schools and Hickory City Schools – but they can appeal that decision.

Richmond County Schools are facing Level Six sanctions this year. The eight facing Level Five sanctions include Alamance-Burlington Schools, Durham Public Schools, Forsyth County Schools, Gaston County Schools, Nash-Rocky Mount Schools, Robeson County Schools, Rowan-Salisbury Schools and Wayne County Public Schools.