Extra instruction aids Colerain students

Published 8:59 am Thursday, February 4, 2010

COLERAIN – Principals around the country are looking for ways to improve test scores and get more instruction time.

One Bertie County elementary school leader may have just found the answer.

Colerain Elementary School Principal Fannie Williams began the school year asking students to stay after school for extra work.

“The problem we were having is that we weren’t seeing the children we needed to see,” Williams said. “I went to our teachers, our bus drivers and our parents and pitched a new plan. They all bought into it and agreed to help.”

Now, on each Tuesday and Thursday, the school day at Colerain Elementary continues until 4 p.m. Students come out of their regular classrooms and are grouped according to the area in which the need extra instruction.

“We felt like it was important to have students taught my someone different and to put them in groups where they could get the extra help they need,” Williams said. “We use our ClassScape assessments to see which students need help in which areas and group them accordingly.”

Williams and Assistant Principal Clara Lee and Reading Coach LaTonya Squire have hands-on involvement in the curriculum and the teaching methods employed during the extra time the students are spending at school.

“We want to make sure they are getting exactly what they need so we’re very much involved,” Williams said. “I look at lesson plans, offer assistance and do whatever I can to help.”

The assistance offered to the students is a full staff endeavor. Not only do all the classroom teachers at Colerain offer instruction, but so do the school counselor, reading coach, assistant principal, physical education teacher, Media Specialist and all teacher assistants.

“Everyone has to be involved for us to be as successful as we want to be,” Williams said. “Our focus is giving every student here the best chance to be successful.”

And all of them are doing it without the benefit of extra pay.

“We just couldn’t afford any extra money,” Williams said, “so all of our teachers and workers are doing this without being paid for it.”

The program came to light during a recent meeting of the Bertie County Board of Education when principals were called on to talk about some of their intervention methods during a presentation on testing data.

“We were very concerned about the fact that we are sending students to Sandra (Hardy, Bertie Middle School Principal) that were not prepared,” Williams told the board. “We wanted to do something about it.”

The extended day program so intrigued two board members – Chairperson Emma H. Johnson and Alton H. Parker – they made a special visit to the school recently to see what the program was about.

“When they were informed about the program, two of our board members wanted to come see it for themselves,” said Bertie County Schools Superintendent Dr. Chip Zullinger. “They wanted to see for themselves what was going on.”

Both board members said they were pleased with what they were seeing.

“The pressure is on to get test scores up,” Johnson said. “After hearing about what was happening in the board meeting, I wanted to get here and see it for myself.

“I’m excited about what I’ve seen,” Johnson continued. “I see teachers engaged in hands-on activities with our students.”

Parker was also happy with what he saw.

“As I’ve always said, one of Dr. Zullinger’s strong points is thinking outside the box,” Parker said. “Mrs. Williams is following his example.

“We have to help children the best way we can,” he added. “This program may not be right for every school, but if it is right for this one, we need to do it here. We have to be innovative.”

Parker stressed his belief that the children in Bertie County are as capable as those in any district.

“Every child in Bertie County has the opportunity to reach the level they are capable of if we continue to do things like this,” he said. “Our students are just as capable as any student anywhere.”

Another key component of the program is the evaluation tool. Each day after the extended session, students have the opportunity to taken an assessment to see what they have learned.

Community member Ron Wesson was among those who toured the school with Dr. Zullinger and the board members. He said that was the strongest part of the process in his opinion.

“I think the most interesting thing is that they receive instruction one day and the next day they are evaluating it,” Wesson said. “That’s a powerful piece.”

Williams, in her ninth year as principal of the school, said she had held summer academies before as well as other after-school intervention programs, but this was the first time the entire school was involved.

“I think the kids are excited,” the principal said. “I could cry from sheer joy for the support the staff has given us in this program and the support they give our students.”