North Carolina: Transformation Tour in Winston-Salem
By Greg Johnson, NEA Executive Committee
On Tuesday, November 23rd, I visited 2 schools in the Winston-Salem Schools. My Association contact was Forsythe County Association of Educators President Tripp Jeffers. Tripp prepared a full day of school visits combined with some discussions with Administrators from WS/FCS. Accompanying us were Rodney Ellis, Vice-President of the North Carolina Association of Educators and Steve Snider and Denise Alston of the NEA Priority Schools Campaign.
Our day began bright and early entering the halls of Petree Elementary. Petree is a turnaround model school that has close to 70% new staff, 2 new principals, 16 first year teachers and a huge challenge ahead of them. From the beginning of our visit we were met with friendly, smiling faces welcoming us to their school. From the secretary in the office, to the Assistant Principal, to the teachers who came to meet with us in the media center, you could just feel a good vibe at the school. With Priority Schools Campaign materials in their hands, we talked about the road ahead and how they would tackle the task at hand. Although reluctant to verbalize any concerns, the staff took the time to write comments about what was working and what needed some help.
Promptly at 8:30, a video announcement started the day. Students from different grades gave out lunch menus, thoughts for the day, and ended with a cheery message to all the students to make it a great day. It’s all part of the new vibe at Petree. Staff and students coming together and working positively towards making Petree a great public school. So far test scores are up, the community is supporting the changes, and best of all, the students are learning in a positive, encouraging environment. The Home/School Coordinator (a full time person devoted to creating partnerships with the school and the community) talked to us about how the neighborhood has embraced the change, and is even looking forward to sending their kids to Petree, something that hasn’t always been the case in the past.
The most amazing thing was just visiting the classrooms where we were greeted and welcomed by the students who were truly excited to be there. Smiles on full, and eager eyes ready for the day! That’s what school should be about.
After leaving Petree, we met with Central Office Administrators who talked about the process of choosing the models for Petree and for the other school we were to visit, Kennedy MS. They felt frustrated by the requirements of the SIG regulations. Especially at Kennedy, where they were required to replace the 2008 District Principal of the Year because of the SIG requirements. While the FCAE has been included in most aspects of the SIG process, they were not consulted regarding the model choices made by the District. We never could get a straight answer to that question and decided it was best to move on to other things.
The new Principal at Kennedy is a strong advocate for Career Technical Education, and as a result, the school was in the process of transforming into a CTE School. The goal is to create a site where students who might fall into the cracks at other schools will find a place where they can learn about health care, auto mechanics, construction, and other Career Tech fields while making their way towards a high school diploma. Again, we felt a new vibe at the school. Construction is under way on several new buildings that will allow Kennedy to become a CTE school. The staff seems ready to move forward, but not as ready to go at they were at Petree. It will be interesting to see how their transformation will occur.
Change just to change is never good, but I walked away feeling that for Petree, they are on the right path. There was just too much evidence that turnaround was a good choice for them. Kennedy is a different story, there is a different feel to the school, but time will tell if they can really make changes that are sustainable and that will make a difference for the students attending Kennedy.