Bertie Prep: 9 + 10 equals success

Published 12:29 pm Saturday, April 24, 2010

WINDSOR – With the Bertie Preparatory High School firmly in place, Bertie County Schools were ahead of the game.

That is according to District Transformation coach Tonya Horton, who arrived in Windsor after plans for the school were already well under way.

“I was pleased to see the Ninth Grade Academy already being organized,” Horton said. “It is one of the designs the state looks for in turnaround schools and to see that it was already in place was a positive sign.”

With Trey Peele in place as Principal and the design of the school set, all that was left was getting to work. That happened in the 2008-2009 academic year when the school housed students for the first time.

One of those students, Elton Rodgers, said he was skeptical at first, but quickly found a home.

“At first, I thought it would be childish and lower our ability to be ready for high school,” Rodgers said. “Now I know that it is a step in better preparing us.”

That step seems to have been true for the entire school’s population as the first year of testing after the implementation of Bertie Preparatory High School showed marked improvement.

English I scores improved from 47 percent proficient to nearly 57 percent while Algebra I End of Course tests rose from 32.2 percent all the way to 47.6 percent. Geometry scores and Physical Science also rose significantly over the previous year’s results.

“Having Bertie Prep be successful was key in our strategy of making high school students successful in Bertie County,” said Bertie County Schools Superintendent Dr. Chip Zullinger. “With the STEM School and Early College already being in place, we wanted to make sure Bertie Prep was a legitimate choice.

“I think if you look at the success students have had here, it’s obvious that among those three choices, there’s not a bad one,” Dr. Zullinger added. “If I were to describe Bertie Prep in relation to those schools, I would say that it is very traditional with high expectations and academic achievement.”

With the success of the school, Bertie County officials began to look at the possibility of keeping the tenth grade students at Bertie Prep and a decision was made to do that during the current school year.

“We knew we could house the tenth grade on this campus and still offer quality space for them,” Dr. Zullinger said. “I think it was a clear effort to de-staff the traditional high school and only move people that could buy into the high expectations and who want to remake Bertie High School.”

Assistant Superintendent of Schools Carol Atkins said the school had been successful with the ninth graders and there was clear reason to believe it could be if the tenth grade were added.

“I think we universally felt like they had learned so much in one year the question became what happens if we keep them there for two years,” Atkins said.

Dr. Zullinger said the remaking of Bertie High School was an important part of the change.

“A lot of time in school reform, when you remake schools it is better to shift things around than try to do it when the deck chairs are already set for you,” he said. “We felt like this had a chance to really remake what our school system can do for high school students.”

That didn’t happen overnight, however, according to those involved.

“I think you could feel the weight of the change when this year first started,” Dr. Zullinger said. “The first group, who had become sophomores, had built a culture, but it took some time to get it established with the ninth graders.

“I think at about the 45-day mark, it had really started to stick,” he added. “People are now about the business of why they’re here.”

What Bertie Prep has offered, in fact, is the opportunity for students to excel.

“We have more students who are looking forward to going to college,” Peele said. “We have students who want teachers to teach them higher content.”

One of the reasons for the change has been the use of data to help teachers work with individual students.

“We have a pretty good idea of how students are going to score before they take the standardized test,” Horton said. “We’re using data so much on such a regular basis that students, parents, teachers and administrators already know where students are.”

Atkins said that was true even to the extent of students wanting to excel one regular ClassScape testing to prove what they can accomplish.

“Kids focus on the data as well,” she said. “They understand what they do or don’t do makes a difference. They understand what scores on the EOC’s mean.

“It’s become intrinsic. They want you to know they did well,” Peele chimed in. “We’re still working to make it even more intrinsic. There’s no silver bullet to it. You have to have teachers speaking the same language you are.”

One of the aids in this year’s testing comes from Bertie Middle School.

“One thing you’ll see is that at the end of last year, students from Bertie Middle School scored well,” Horton said. “That means the ninth graders this year have a greater skill set and have higher expectations.”

All four administrators said the premise of Bertie Preparatory High School was that students could always be taught if they wanted to be.

“It’s never too late,” Horton said.

Dr. Zullinger added, “I’d say the reason this school has been successful is we’ve dedicated the resources and time to make sure it aids those students who were not as prepared for high school as we would have liked.”

The next part of this series will deal with Bertie Prep’s relationship to other schools and how the district is changing because of the school’s design.