Bertie Prep emerges from shadows

Published 9:18 am Thursday, April 29, 2010

WINDSOR – The design of Bertie Preparatory High School will have a lasting effect on high school education in the county.

Officials with Bertie County Public Schools recently talked about the design of Bertie Prep and the changes that would be coming to Bertie High School next school year because of it.

“I find myself wanting to brag on all of our schools,” Bertie County Schools Superintendent Dr. Chip Zullinger said. “It seems that Bertie High School, the Bertie STEM and the Early College High School get all of the headlines and they deserve what they get.

“When it boils down to sheer numbers, though, the school that is the miracle that will turn around Bertie High School is Bertie Prep,” Dr. Zullinger added. “It’s in the shadow because its scores are considered part of Bertie High School and it gets put in under that umbrella.”

Dr. Zullinger said despite those facts, Bertie Prep was an important part of the school district’s transformation.

“Bertie Prep may be the most invisible, but it also may be the most important,” he insisted.

The school’s main focus this academic year has been getting all of the major coursework done that is required by the state of North Carolina for graduation. The work will allow students to take higher level courses when they reach Bertie High School next year.

“We have kids in the tenth grade who have taken pre-Calculus,” Bertie Prep Principal Trey Peele said. “They will go to Bertie High School ready to take Calculus as juniors.”

Bertie County Schools’ Assistant Superintendent Carol Atkins said the reason that happened was a focus on core courses at Bertie Prep.

“Elective courses are kept to a minimum here to make sure the students have the necessary requirements to reach graduation,” Atkins said. “They are almost done with those courses when they leave here.”

Dr. Zullinger said as much as 85 percent of graduation requirements will be met by students entering Bertie High School next fall as juniors.

Bertie County’s District Transformation Coach, Tonya Horton, said the work put pressure on the students and staff at Bertie Prep, but they have been able to handle the hard work.

“There is certainly some End of Course testing done at STEM, the Early College and Bertie High, but the majority of the testing is done right here,” Horton said. “It adds a lot of pressure.”

Thus far, the testing numbers have been good at Bertie Prep with students who have already completed End of Course testing outperforming many of the benchmarks set for them.

In English I, those meeting standards rose from 63.2 percent last year to 82.6 percent after the first semester of testing. Geometry scores are also up, rising from 81.3 percent to 84.6 percent.

Biology wasn’t tested at Bertie Prep last year, but has risen to a passing rate of 93.3 percent. The Bertie High School passing rate was 46.1 percent last year.

Peele said he believed the biggest change was in the students themselves.

“I think we have shown that some students can perform if you believe in them and set high standards for them,” he said. “The staff has built relationships with the students. They believe in them and the students know they have quality teachers.”

Dr. Zullinger said he also believed it was important that the teachers had strong administrative support.

“The teachers are well supported at Bertie Prep,” he said. “Mr. Peele has been right there with them and has set a high standard for students.”

The result of all that work is a change in the philosophy of Bertie High School.

Atkins said the district has already begun work on remaking the course offerings at Bertie High to allow for more Advanced Placement (AP) Courses and higher levels of math and science.

“We began working last year on classes that we will need to offer in two years to meet the needs of our students at Bertie Prep,” Atkins said. “We’re already looking at adding AP Statistics and Statistics and Probability.”

Entering this school year, Bertie County Schools had only two certified AP teachers, but that number will leap to eight by the end of the year.

“That shows a tremendous increase,” Horton said.

Dr. Zullinger said the staffing changes necessary to meet the needs of students is already being discussed.

“We’ve already began meeting to discuss how to restaff Bertie High School to meet the needs that have been accomplished here,” Dr. Zullinger said.

As the students continue to make better grades and complete higher level courses, they will make Bertie High School better, which is something Horton said she is excited to see.

“From a state perspective, people look at eastern North Carolina and Bertie in particular as one of the lowest-performing districts,” Horton said. “As Bertie improves, it will change the perspective not only of Bertie, but of all of eastern North Carolina.”

Dr. Zullinger said he was pleased with what the future holds when the current tenth graders leave Bertie Prep.

“This group of tenth graders will remake Bertie High School,” Dr. Zullinger said.