This December brought an early gift for Red Springs Middle and Fairgrove Middle schools in the Public Schools of Robeson County as both schools were honored for their achievements as Race to the Top Schools. In two years the schools have improved their student performance by more than 10 percent.
The federal government is recognizing this achievement because the plans utilized by both school are being looked at as models for other districts. The two schools were chosen along with nine of the 118 Race to the Top schools around the state for showing significant progress.
This month Red Springs and Fairgrove Middle hosted educators from around the state to see how they are making the grade. The Race to the Top schools are also known as Turning Around Lowest Achieving. There are 118 schools that are in the Turning Around Lowest Achieving Schools process with Race to the Top. In 2010, North Carolina earned one of 12 Race to the Top grants awarded by the U.S. Department of Education.
In part, these funds are available to stimulate and strengthen states’ efforts to turn around their lowest achieving schools. North Carolina wrote the state plan and in turn gave each individual school district money. The Public Schools of Robeson County received almost $8 million, which must be spent by 2014.
Each individual district had to write a plan on how the money would used.
The Public Schools of Robeson County plan has four pillars for Race to the Top: professional development, technology, standards and assessments and turning around the lowest performing schools.
The first component of the plan for PSRC focuses on great teachers and leaders. The plan wrote in changes to build teachers and administrators as the district moves to new standards and new assessments.
Technology focuses on infrastructure and equipment. A good amount of the grant is being utilized to have sufficient access to technology, such as making schools wireless with laptops, iPads and smart boards.
Standards and Assessments focuses on the transition to common core and essential standards. The school system is bringing in professionals to help the districts move forward with these changes by supporting teachers to help them understand the new standards with professional development.
The state also identified 12 districts that are low performing. These districts agreed to go through a transformation model with Race to the Top Schools. The money was used to provide more curriculum facilitators for these districts. Each Race to the Top school also received a school transformation coach who is working with the principal while instructional coaches are working with the teachers.
The county also has a district transformation coach who is provided by N.C. Department of Public Instruction to work with the central office. While the plan seems extensive, teachers and administrators are taking a direct approach for change in the classroom through Professional Learning Communities. The teachers are taking a leadership role in learning how to look at their class data and use it to improve learning practices and make sure all the students are learning. This strategy also engages the community in partnerships to support high quality education for all students.
The N.C. Department of Public Instruction is concentrating on these transformation schools. The state goal is to have these schools 60 percent proficient by 2014.
The goal for the PSRC is to raise all students to more than 60 percent proficiency. School leaders say they are not where they want to be, but they are definitely seeing significant changes in culture and student learning. The educators realize it is a journey, not a destination, and that these schools are on the road to progress.
Other Race to the Top Schools in the Public Schools of Robeson County are Lumberton Junior High, Townsend Middle, Magnolia and Southside/Ashpole.
Johnny Hunt is the superintendent of the Public Schools of Robeson County.