Read Mark's Editorial to Find Out What Works
In connection with its October meeting, the State Board of Education will visit Winston-Salem to observe our schools. I would like to highlight a major recent success in Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools and what it means for North Carolina. The graduation rate for WS/FC Schools just surpassed 85%. With a rate of 71% in 2008, our schools, teachers, and community made great strides and put us on track to reach our goal of 90% by 2018. Anyone concerned over education and the future of our state should keep an eye on Winston-Salem/Forsyth County.
WS/FC places a premium on professional development and leadership training. We provide targeted training sessions, conferences, and digital solutions that allow teachers and principals to collaborate on best practices. We will employ instructional coaches to enable our educators to sharpen their skills. We continuously strive to remove testing burdens from curriculum coordinators so each can spend more time with teachers. Also, we utilize existing resources to cultivate strong principal and administrative leadership. Recently, one of our most experienced principals assumed the new role of Executive Principal for Leadership Development, so she can serve as a mentor to principals across the district.
My time as a teacher instilled one of the most important values I carry forward in my work: prioritize robust relationships closest to the student level to drive success in schools. Ultimately, learning occurs between the student and the teacher… not a test, standard, or bureaucratic program. Improvement comes through focusing on strategies that strengthen the relationships between pupils and educators as well as teachers and their administrators. Our work emphasizes developing principals and teachers to be strong leaders of their schools and classrooms as well as providing resources to teachers, while lifting any superfluous burdens (under our control), that help them focus on their relationships with their students.
Further, WS/FC intentionally engages our parent and community partners in understanding, supporting, and advocating for our goals. Invaluable involvement by non-governmental organizations creates more volunteer hours, mentors, scholarships, after-school tutoring, outreach, free school supplies, and dollar and sweat investment in our schools. Amazing programs championed by local foundations and non-profits focus on early childhood education, professional development for teachers, graduation support, and after-school literacy tutoring. Our parents and community organizations help fill the gaps found before the start and after the end of the school day that our school system’s stretched resources cannot always address.
Later this year, the WS/FC Board of Education will present projects for a 2016 bond referendum to the community. Our rapid increase in population requires building new schools in the suburban areas of our county. In addition, we plan to champion proposals that rethink how bond money can go beyond brick and mortar campaigns to strategic investments that improve results for our most challenged schools, which mostly serve students from poverty. After all, increased success for all students means less poverty, and less poverty results in fewer citizens depending on government services, an expanded tax base (and lower taxes for everyone), and significant improvements to our economy.
Most importantly, WS/FC is a microcosm of North Carolina. We serve rural, suburban, and urban communities all in one increasingly diverse district. Within our boundaries, we have some of the state’s highest performing schools along with some of the state’s most challenged schools. Any program we implement must serve this vast range of populations. With almost 60,000 students, over 7,000 educators, and a budget of half a billion dollars, WS/FC can show what works, and what works in WS/FC can work across the state.
Watch Winston-Salem, and you will be pleased with our progress. We aim for every student to leave school with the skills they need to succeed not only for the good of our state and our economy but because we live in the only country that has a dream named after it. No matter a student’s neighborhood, no matter a student’s background, no matter a student’s starting point, every student should have the opportunity to go to school, work hard, and achieve their full potential.