June 19, 2008

Carrboro High School Isn’t a Big Hit With Its Students

By Keely Stockett, The Herald-Sun, Durham, N.C.

Jun. 19--CHAPEL HILL -- Carrboro High School hasn't been a big hit with its students in its first year of existence.

A survey administered to students at all three city district high schools this year showed that barely half the students at the newest school are proud to attend Carrboro.

The survey, which was given to students in January, sought to find the "nurturing and responsive high school climate" in Carrboro, Chapel Hill and East Chapel Hill high schools. A report on the survey will be presented to the school board at its meeting tonight.

All students at the three schools took the survey, and results were broken down by school as well as ethnicity and grade level within each school.

While strong majorities of students at Chapel Hill and East expressed pride in their schools, only 50.1 percent of Carrboro High students said they would recommend their school to a friend, and 51.5 percent said they were proud to be a student there. Students in the upper grade levels were the least satisfied with the school.

Sherri Martin, director of secondary education for the district, said those results were partly due to the fact that Carrboro High School just completed its first year.

"I think being a new school is part of it. Students haven't developed allegiances to the school," Martin said.

Pride wasn't the only thing lacking at Carrboro, according to the survey. Results showed that students of all ethnicities -- particularly Asians -- did not feel their race and culture were celebrated.

Like Martin, Dianne Villwock, the city schools' director of testing and program evaluation, attributed those results to "new-school blues." As for the Asian students, Villwock stressed that until the last decade, the district consisted almost entirely of white and black students.

"The Asian student population has been small historically, but if you look at the past 10 years, it's just skyrocketed," she said. "There's a difference in how they like to be treated. There's an adjustment for all of the service workers on how to relate appropriately."

Villwock added that the district recently has focused on raising the test scores of black and Latino students. That can come across as not caring about other races, including Asians, who generally outperform black and Latino students.

Based on students' responses to the survey questions, each high school will implement new strategies for the upcoming school year to address any issues or concerns. According to accompanying reports from the high school principals, Carrboro -- where Rodney Trice has just been named interim principal, replacing first year leader Jeff Thomas -- will use the book "How to Teach Students Who Don't Look Like You" to help teachers and staff reach and relate to all students in their classrooms.

While the survey responses from Carrboro students showed the need for improvement in some areas, Martin said in general, students in the district seemed happy with their school environments.

"I think the overall results were relatively positive in terms of how the students view the high schools," Martin said. About 80 percent of students in all three high schools said they participate in extracurricular activities, and more than 60 percent of students said the schools are supportive of non-native English speakers -- an important element particularly for the Chapel Hill-Carrboro district, where 10 percent of the students are Hispanic and 13 percent are Asian.

More than 70 percent of students said they knew where to go if they are struggling with school work, and well more than 60 percent said they knew they could get help if they had other problems at school.

However, less than half said they knew they could get that support from a family specialist, and only 50 percent of students said they felt they could go to a principal or assistant principal for help.

Villwock said some of the responses were unexpected, and those surprises will be useful in directing improvements for the district and making the high school environments comfortable for all students.

"That's why you do a survey," Villwock said. "If you knew all the answers, it would be unnecessary."

One result, though, wasn't surprising at all: Only one-third of the students in the schools liked the cafeteria food.


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