Keeping teachers, finding funds

Mar. 29, 2013 @ 06:13 PM

WARRENTON — Commissioners and school members received a progress review and anticipated challenges ahead in an annual report of the school system at a joint meeting of the two boards Wednesday evening.

A presentation of results of the Department of Public Instruction’s 2011-2012 Report Card for Warren County Schools showed that six schools met or exceeded expected growth, Warren Early College High School was named a School of Distinction and Northside Elementary School did not make expected growth and was designated a Priority School.

“We are making progress,” said Ray Spain, the schools’ superintendent. “But we have a lot more work to do.”
The report noted the school district budget is affected by a number of factors.

“Our business is labor intensive,” Spain said. “Most of our budget, over 70 percent, is in personnel and benefits.”

The expiration of federal stimulus funding, reduced funding as a result of the federal sequestration, the increase in the number of charter schools and increases in the cost of fuel and health insurance have put pressure on the local budget.
Added to this is uncertainty about what the General Assembly will do, Spain said.

Principal Shelia Washington and Ryan Hurley, transformation facilitator, presented a Transformation Plan intended to deal with deficiencies at Northside Elementary School. The plan includes a year-round calendar, intercessions focusing on specific student needs, a Spanish language immersion program and the possibility of a new PreK-8 organization.

A report by Jamar Perry, the personnel director, showed progress in teacher recruitment and retention. One challenge in combatting teacher turnover, according to the report, is the salary supplement offered by Warren County Schools.

The local average supplement of $633 has to compete with supplements of $2,530 in Vance County, $1,727 in Roanoke Rapids and $2,188 in Granville County.

The competition with urban counties is even stiffer. Wake County offers a $6,031 average supplement, while Durham County offers a $5,733 supplement.

To begin to offset the difference, the school board is proposing a supplement of $950 for the 2013-2014 school year.

Other factors hindering the retention of teachers are the lack of social activities, recreation, shopping opportunities and cultural events in a rural county such as Warren.

Despite these challenges, the teacher turnover rate in Warren County has been reduced from 21.5 percent in the 2009-2010 school year to 12 percent in the 2011-2012 school year. The statewide rate is approximately 12 percent.

Percentages of classes taught by highly qualified teachers, as defined by federal law, have been raised to 100 percent in the elementary schools, 94 percent in the middle school and 98 percent in the high schools in the 2011-2012 school year.

A report by Linda Mason, assistant superintendent, and Jeannie Alston, school improvement grant director, described reform efforts at Warren County High School. In 2007-2008, only 36.9 percent of the students achieved proficiency. By 2011-2012, this figure had been raised to 65.1 percent.

The school received a School Improvement Grant that was used to: 

• Provide professional development for teachers to better utilize the 90-minute block schedule.

• Restructure the Freshmen Academy to help students make a better transition to high school.

• Improve communication among students, teachers, parents, administrators and the community.

To help students prepare for high school, the district offers the 8+ Program for overage middle school students who are struggling with academics, attendance and behavior issues and a Freshmen Academy to smooth the transition from eighth grade to ninth grade.

One of three high schools in the district, Warren County High School offers a more traditional high school program than New Tech High School or Early College High School. Still, within its offerings, it provides students the choice of two pathways, a Career Academy or a College Prep Academy.

In summary, the report states the school is making “continuous incremental but significant progress with student performance.”

For a look at the future, Spain presented an overview of a strategic planning process now under way. It is guided by a 25-member team that includes district staff, parents, two students and community representatives. The team has developed 14 statements of beliefs, a mission statement, strategic objectives and strategies. Work will continue to refine the plan, leading to an anticipated implementation of its recommendations in 2014.

Contact the writer at dirvine@hendersondispatch.com.