Guilford County ‘State of Our Schools’ address held Thursday

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GREENSBORO, N.C. -- Donations totaling more than $3.1 million, an honors class using high-level thinking to tie genetics research to service-learning and students reading more than 222,000,000 minutes on a virtual journey across the country. Those are just a few of the highlights Guilford County Schools shared during the fifth-annual State of Our Schools event: “We Rise.”

The 2014 State of Our Schools was held on Thursday, Jan. 23 at the High Point Theatre. The event gave GCS Superintendent Maurice “Mo” Green the opportunity to share district achievements, student successes and employee honors with guests.

In addition, the superintendent’s annual address provided an update on the progress of the Strategic Plan 2016: Achieving Educational Excellence: Personalizing Learning. The Strategic Plan was introduced at the 2013 State of Our Schools event; it serves as the district’s blueprint, detailing goals and strategies to guide GCS through 2016.

“When we launched the first Strategic Plan in 2009, we started on a journey to bring a quote by Martin Luther King, Jr. to life: ‘Intelligence plus character, that is the goal of true education,’” said Green. “Now, only a few short years later, the pillars of that plan – academic achievement and character development – have reached incredible heights. GCS had its highest graduation rate ever at 86.2 percent and we were named a National District of Character.”

For the first time, the Community Foundation of Greater Greensboro announced the winner of the Hugh B. Humphrey Jr. School Improvement Award during State of Our Schools. The award is based on 11 data points and is presented to the most-improved high school in Guilford County. This year, Page High won the award, as well as $10,000 to strengthen and develop school staff.

Other district successes highlighted Thursday night:

  • 2013 North Carolina District of Character
  • 2013 United Way Spirit of North Carolina Award
  • Eight high schools with 100 percent graduation rates
  • Eight high schools with graduation rates over 90 percent, including six large traditional schools
  • Three National Blue Ribbon Schools in the past two years
  • More than 750 National Board Certified Teachers, ranking GCS 10th in the country
  • 2013 North Carolina High School Athlete of the Year
  • 2013 North Carolina Teacher of the Year
  • 2012 North Carolina Principal of the Year
  • Four GCS teams selected to send experiments into space as part of the Student Spaceflight Experiments Program
  • Nearly 1,000 students dancing, acting, singing and painting during the district’s Summer Arts Institute

More than 150 students from 30 GCS schools joined Green on stage, including outstanding educators who are making a difference in students’ lives.

Teachers highlighted during the event included:

  • Eugene Grant, Southeast High Math Teacher and 2013-14 GCS Teacher of the Year
  • Krista Pool, Kiser Middle School English Language Arts Teacher
  • Dauna Jessup, Parkview Village Elementary Expressive Arts School Dance Teacher
  • Thomas Hefner, Eastern High School Physics and Chemistry Teacher

North Carolina Teacher of the Year Karyn Dickerson also was honored. The Grimsley High English teacher will head to Washington, D.C. on Jan. 27 to join state leaders at the President’s State of the Union address.

Those outstanding educators are helping GCS students rise to new heights, both inside and outside the classroom.

Student stories shared during State of Our Schools included:

Katheryn Cooper’s Honors Biology Class, The Early College at Guilford

Each student researched a genetic disease, including Cystic Fibrosis, ALS, Tay-Sachs disease and Leukemia. Students studied how and why a disease forms through gene mutation, then examined its community, state and national impact and created service-learning projects to bring awareness and help to those affected.


Phyllis Jones’ Game-Design Class, Weaver Academy

Game design is one of GCS’ 192 career and technical education courses; students cover areas that relate to art, history, ethics, storyboarding, programming, and 2D visual theory.

Each year, the students are tasked with inventing a board game. They have to brainstorm an idea, and then create the game, its components and directions. This year, students incorporated character-education into the mix, developing games that lead students through conflict-resolution exercises and discussions about making the right choices.


Southern Middle School’s Football Team

After three years of serving as the student manager for Southern Middle's football team, eighth-grader Dustin Edmonson was an expert in helping his coaches and supporting his teammates – from the sidelines.

Dustin has cerebral palsy, and is limited in playing contact sports. But this fall, he suited up and took the field with his teammates, carrying the ball down the field for a touchdown.

The Strategic Plan also focuses on literacy and early intervention. In the 2013-14 school year, GCS took positive steps in this area, including introducing a new word-study program called Fundations. All GCS students in kindergarten through second grade are learning how to become better readers through the program, which third-graders will start next year.

Also part of the Strategic Plan is a goal to reduce summer reading loss and improve literacy skills. Last summer, a donation from the Bryan Foundation allowed hundreds of rising third-graders to attend a summer literacy camp. At the State of Our Schools, the superintendent announced that the Weaver Family has donated nearly $513,000 to give more than 700 students that opportunity this summer.

Literacy is also the focus of the district’s Roadmap 2 Reading initiative, the district’s program that challenged all students to read 20 minutes per day. The district goal was to “travel” 3,114 miles across the country, from Cape Hatteras to San Francisco, Calif. Students moved a mile along the trip for every minute they read.

At State of Our Schools, the superintendent announced that the district had reached its destination, traveling 3,181 miles and reading a total of 222,670,354 minutes – that’s 3,711,172 hours!

The superintendent recognized that while we have much to celebrate in GCS, the year also brought many challenges.

The state switched to the tougher, more in-depth state standards, which led to a significant, but expected, drop in 2012-13 End-of-Grade and End-of-Course scores.

“These scores do not mean that our students didn’t experience academic growth – it simply means we’ve raised the bar and we will rise to meet it again,” Green said.

GCS also launched the Personalized Achievement, Curriculum and Environment (PACE) project, funded by a U.S. Department of Education grant that put tablets in the hands of 15,000 students and staff. After just a few weeks, the district suspended the use of the tablets and related items because of ongoing quality and safety concerns.

“We are here because we dared to be bold and innovative. We set out to try to transform educational opportunities by truly personalizing learning using technology tools, and we chose a company that shared that same vision,” Green said. “Unfortunately, significant concerns with the tablets arose that have caused this community and me great disappointment. However, please know that I could not be prouder of the team that selected Amplify, and the technology gurus and educators who worked tirelessly to try to turn this vision into reality for our students.”

Green said the district is still working with Amplify, with a goal of restarting the tablet program for the 2014-15 school year.

Funding is an additional challenge. Guilford County Schools has lost more than $42 million in state funding in the last five years. Despite enduring significant budget cuts over the last several years, the district is already expecting a budget gap of approximately $8.4 million for the 2014-15 school year. In order to balance the 2013-14 budget, GCS had to use one-time resources, including $4.2 million in Title I funds, $3.3 million from the district’s fund balance (essentially, the district’s savings account) and nearly one million in Race to the Top-Mission Possible funds. That money is no longer available, which means GCS has to find a way to replace it just in order to start from this year’s funding level.

GCS is committed to student success, but Green said the district also needs adequate public funding to make it happen. In addition, GCS needs local nonprofits, community agencies, local businesses, foundations and faith groups to support our schools.

And partners are heeding the call and stepping up to provide support.

Guilford County Board of Education Vice-Chairman and District 9 Representative Amos Quick announced that the Phillips Foundation was donating $500,000 to support Allen Jay Middle.

The school was part of the 2012 Strategic Plan, and opened in the fall of 2013 with its first class of 110 fifth graders. Allen Jay Middle combines a strong emphasis on leadership and college readiness with a high-energy teaching style using music and movement to keep students engaged.

“Education is our community’s most powerful tool,” Quick said. “I want to commend this community for its unwavering support of our public schools, but we have more work to do.”

In addition to the Phillips Foundation’s donation to support Allen Jay Middle, the foundation also donated more than $2 million to jump-start a new GCS partnership with Teach For America.

The program will recruit more high-achieving college graduates and professionals to classrooms, with a goal of placing up to 30 new recruits in high-need middle and high schools each year, beginning next fall. Cemala Foundation also donated $100,000 to the new partnership.

“Now more than ever, we need individuals who will rise up for our students and push them to reach their potential,” Green said. “Now more than ever, we need to hear your voices as we advocate for better funding for our schools and better support of our tremendous educators.”

Local partners also supported the State of Our Schools event. No taxpayer money was used to fund it, thanks to the generous support of event sponsors Businesses for Excellence in Education, Lincoln Financial Group, High Point Regional Health, Wells Fargo, and Horace Mann, as well as pre-event reception co-hosts Guilford Education Alliance, AchieveGuilford and the High Point Community Foundation.

Green said while we are thankful for these donations, our students need more to rise to their full potential. He challenged parents, local businesses, nonprofits and the faith community to give their time. Read with students, tutor them in math, be a lunch buddy, head a campus clean-up project or share skills with parents.

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