Bertie Prep changes education

Published 8:57 am Tuesday, April 20, 2010

WINDSOR – Bertie Preparatory High School is about the business of changing high school education in the county.

The Bertie County public school houses ninth and tenth graders at the site of the former Southwestern Middle School and has become one of the top-performing schools in eastern North Carolina.

The school began just over two years ago as the brain-child of Bertie County Schools Public Information Officer Brent Todd.

“We were in a cabinet meeting and Brent suggested that we look at using the space at Southwestern to get students at Bertie High School out of mobile units,” said Bertie County Schools Superintendent Dr. Chip Zullinger. “To be honest, I didn’t do anything with it for three weeks or more and then we came back to it.”

Dr. Zullinger said he began working with Assistant Superintendent Carol Atkins to form a ninth grade academy which would be housed at the Southwestern site and allow the district to remove all the mobile units from the Bertie High School campus.

The superintendent quickly began moving on multiple fronts, including making decisions about personnel and scheduling.

“I think I hit Trey (Peele) with the idea in the late spring of 2008,” Dr. Zullinger said. “I wanted to see if he had an interest in it. Honestly, I don’t think I contemplated anyone else for the role of principal.”

Peele was serving as an Assistant Principal at West Bertie Elementary School in Kelford, but said he immediately had interest in the job.

“I embraced the idea of it and asked him what his vision was,” said Peele, who has served as the school’s top administrator since it began. “I felt like it was a good fit because at the time my wife was principal of the freshman academy in Hertford County and it gave me someone to pull from.”

Dr. Zullinger said he also began forming the idea of what the school would be like.

“It started as a way to get kids in quality spaces, but we knew from our performance rates on testing that we needed to remake the ninth grade,” Dr. Zullinger said. “We found that we had kids taking Algebra I and English I four or five times.”

The discussions began in earnest with Dr. Zullinger and Atkins having opposing ideas.

“I wanted all the kids to have access to the good stuff as far as teaching,” Dr. Zullinger said. “I didn’t want those students taking dumbed-down courses. I was initially under the impression that we needed to make Algebra I and English I year-long courses, but Carol was against that and eventually she brought me around to her way of thinking.”

What Atkins had in mind was to give students who had shown a history of struggling in math or English the opportunity to take a Fundamentals of Algebra I or Fundamentals of English I course in the first semester and the course itself in the second semester.

“We allowed them to take the Fundamentals course so they could be better prepared for Algebra I or English I,” Atkins said. “We have seen that it allows them to be better prepared and they do better once they get into the actual course.”

Along with the curriculum, the school also needed its own principal and own identity, Dr. Zullinger said.

“We wanted the kids at Bertie Prep to have the same opportunities as those at the Bertie STEM School and the Bertie Early College,” the superintendent said. “We worked to put the best teachers in this school and provided them with top-notch content expectations.”

Dr. Zullinger said many times students who need help are stuck with the teachers who perform low as well, but that was not the plan with the Bertie Preparatory School.

“Some students need more time with subjects and now those students are taught by the best teachers in Bertie County,” Dr. Zullinger added. “Sometimes they are left to the poor-performing teachers, but that’s not the case at this school.”

It’s not just those students who are performing poorly that make their way to Bertie Preparatory High School, however.

“Some of the kids come here and are already in Geometry because they have done so well in math,” said Peele. “We’re meeting the needs of children on all spectrums.”

The second part of this story will go into the addition of the tenth grade to the Bertie Preparatory High School and the test scores of the school.