Magnet different, not better

Aug. 23, 2013 @ 07:24 PM

OXFORD — The Granville Magnet School is different from other Granville County public schools.

First, the school has no principal. Decisions about day-to-day operations are shared by the entire teaching staff. Bill Massey, lead teacher for the school, said the teachers work as a team to identify problems and propose solutions.

“If a consensus can’t be reached, someone has to be the tie-breaker,” he said. “That’s me.

“It works pretty well. Sometimes they try to get me involved in things they can do themselves. I tell them, ‘Don’t bring me the student who talks in class.’”

An example of a more serious problem would be bullying, Massey said.

“We don’t tolerate that,” Massey said.

How the school is recruiting an English teacher is an example of shared decision making. Massey said all of the current teachers looked at the applicants’ resumes, identified several prospects to meet with the teachers and selected three candidates to be interviewed by school district administrators.

“That’s how they choose who will be their team members,” Massey said.

The school is different in another way. It operates on a year-round calendar. That may sound forbidding to students who value their vacation time. Although the magnet school students began in July, six weeks before students on the traditional calendar, they will have extra time off at the end of each grading period, meaning they will attend school the same number of days as students following the traditional calendar during the 2013-2014 school year.

During the current year, the school will consist of a sixth grade and a ninth grade. The school will add two grade levels each year until it includes grades 6-12.

The school opened on July 15 with approximately 60 students in each of the two grades. About 40 percent of the students come from outside what would be the normal attendance area for the school.

Sixth-grade students were identified if they were performing at least two grade levels below their peers in English and math.

“All of the sixth-grade students have deficiencies in reading,” Massey said. “None read at the sixth-grade level. Some read at the second-grade level. Our mission is to improve their reading skills incrementally, not in one year.”

The sixth-grade program is called the Promise Academy.

“We call it Promise Academy because we promise we’ll do everything we can to get them ready for high school,” Massey said.

Students were identified as candidates for the ninth-grade class because of their deficiencies in math, science and English. Four hundred students were invited, he said. Of those, 145 applied. Seven were admitted because they had siblings in the sixth-grade class. The only three black males who applied were admitted. The remaining 50 slots were filled by lottery.

They are enrolled in the Collegiate Academy. Among the choices it offers are taking either advanced placement or honors in science and world history. Massey is not disturbed at setting such a high mark for the students.

“Everybody set the low mark and they’ve attained that,” Massey said.

The school attempted to recruit a diverse student body. Particularly difficult was enrolling black and Hispanic males for the ninth-grade class.

“We invited 71 black males. Only three applied,” Massey said.

They were accepted. There are no Hispanic male students in the ninth-grade class.

Massey said a committee has been formed to address the issue of recruiting black male students. He is looking for representatives of the Hispanic community to help develop strategies for recruiting male students from that portion of the population.

The Granville Magnet School is part of “managed choice,” Granville County Schools’ effort to offer students more educational options. It occupies a building, the former home of an alternative school and a school for special students, adjacent to Mary Potter School on Taylor Street.

Massey sees the school’s unconventional approaches as both a challenge and an opportunity.

“We have to be different from the traditional school,” he said, “not better.”

Some of these students have advanced with little achievement in the past, he said. Part of the focus on students in the Magnet School is asking the best of the students.

“I told the teachers, ‘Give them the grades they earned,’” Massey said. “Part of caring is not letting them fail, not hugging them in the hall.”

Massey said their message to the students is, “We won’t allow you to fail.”

Contact the writer at dirvine@hendersondispatch.com.