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Educational gains are reason to ‘smile’

North Carolina State Schools Superintendent Dr. June Atkinson (second from right) was joined on the speaker’s platform by, from left, Hertford County Board of Education members David Shields, Shelia Porter and J. Wendell Hall, Hertford County Commissioner Ronald Gatling and school board members John Horton and Dennis Deloatch during Thursday’s event in Ahoskie.

AHOSKIE – Give them something to smile about.

Those words proved as an uplifting rallying cry here Thursday where all employees of Hertford County Public Schools (HCPS) gathered at the high school gym for its annual convocation, one featuring Dr. June St. Clair Atkinson, State Superintendent of Public Instruction.

Dr. Atkinson’s visit was two-fold – one to provide an emotional boost to the HCPS employees to help jump-start a new academic year, and to share good news concerning the local effort to improve education.

“Why are we in education; why do you come to work every day,” Dr. Atkinson asked. “We give people something to smile about, that’s why. How do we do that? Even though we are facing hard financial times in our state, we, as educators, always turn to the passion inside of us to do what’s right for our children, our students. We have to give them something to smile about so they can feel good about themselves and that self-confidence carries outside the walls of our schools.”

While she noted that North Carolina was ranked anywhere from 48th, 49th or 50th in the nation in educational spending per pupil, there were other areas where the state has excelled. She said in 2008, North Carolina ranked 25th in the nation as far as high school graduation rates were concerned.

“We were ranked in the lower 40’s back 1998, so over a ten-year period we have dramatically improved our graduation rates,” Dr. Atkinson noted.

Meanwhile, African-American female students in North Carolina lead the nation in graduation rates and African-American students as a whole have the nation’s third highest graduation rate, she said.

“That means you, and those that came before you, have helped to increase our graduation rate,” Dr. Atkinson stated. “The work already accomplished to improve these rates and the work we still have before us to reach higher gives us something to smile about.”

The State Superintendent announced that North Carolina’s high school graduation rate is now at an all-time high with 77.7 percent of students receiving a diploma. HCPS, she said, is helping the state reach that lofty plateau by graduating 83.6 percent of its students.

“What a great achievement; everyone in this room should take pride in that number,” Dr. Atkinson stressed. “Hertford County is above the state average…..that gives everyone something to smile about.”

She added that HCPS students have experienced a 20-point gain in end-of-course and end-of-grade test scores.

“Because of the work you are doing, education in Hertford County is on a solid foundation,” she stated. “Sure, there is more work that needs to be done, but you do not need to tear down the house and start over. I’m happy for the progress you have made and congratulate you on your efforts.

“If you think about where we’ve been, Hertford County and all of North Carolina has made great progress. As I look into the future, I feel we need to take a GPS attitude,” Dr. Atkinson noted of the popular electronic devices now found in most vehicles that aid drivers in travel destinations. “We need guidance on ensuring that our students reach the right education destination. That destination should be to make an effort to have all our students graduating and having them prepared to enter college or immediately enter the job market. We will not stop our efforts until we reach the top of the nation and the world. That will give us all something to smile about.”

HCPS Superintendent Dr. John Fahey said having the state’s top educator in Hertford County was uplifting.

“I want everyone to know that I didn’t call Dr. Atkinson, she called me,” Dr. John Fahey said. “She wanted to come here personally and share this great news about our graduation rate and help us reach even higher. I want her to know and you to know that we will continue to improve. We don’t retreat in Hertford County, we charge forward.”

David Shields, Chairman of the Hertford County Board of Education, also offered words of encouragement for the HCPS staff as they embark on a new year.

“We set the bar high last year, but guess what, it’s a bit higher this year,” Shields said. “We welcome you back and look forward to a great year within Hertford County Public Schools.”

The school year is already underway with students in class at both the Early College High School and C.S. Brown High School. The reminder begin their new year next week.

About Cal Bryant

Cal Bryant, a 40-year veteran of the newspaper industry, serves as the Editor at Roanoke-Chowan Publications, publishers of the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald, Gates County Index, and Front Porch Living magazine.

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