August 26, 2008

Tough Test Beginning for Magnet Programs


Jackay Haywood tried for three weeks to teach her 5-year-old daughter, Ashia, how to spell her name. But Ashia could only nail the first three letters.

"I was getting frustrated, because I told her school is about to start and you have to spell your name," Haywood said.

Then Ashia started kindergarten at the transformed Washington Montessori on Monday. Four days later, she knew how to spell not only her name, but the names of some classmates, as well. The mother wondered what her daughter would learn by the end of the semester.

"I can't wait," said Haywood of Greensboro. "I'm excited."

Principals and teachers at six Guilford County Schools were abuzz last week with excitement and nervousness as they prepared to begin new magnet programs in classrooms this year. Their test will be to transform historically underachieving schools into institutions that show parents and surrounding communities consistent results: grade- level readers, passing state exams scores and timely high school graduates.

Those results will determine whether the Board of Education will keep special programs at Northwood and Washington elementary, Ferndale, Hairston and Welborn middle, and Andrews High once a $8.3 million federal grant runs out in two years.

Educators describe how the magnets will help their schools:


Perhaps Grenita Lathan's boldest move before she followed former superintendent Terry Grier to San Diego was to design the Washington Montessori program so that all neighborhood children could attend, regardless of their familiarity with the curriculum. The district's other two Montessori schools cut off entry for inexperienced students at the second grade.

Sharon Jacobs replaced Lathan as principal this year and supports the vision that the community should fully benefit from the support that the magnet funding will provide. Key components of the Montessori technique include blended grade levels and hands-on activities.

"The staff and Dr. Lathan have achieved so much success," Jacobs said. "We cannot afford for our students not to receive those same services for continued growth."

Washington suffered its share of heartaches, including high staff turnover, low test scores and declining enrollment. In 2006, Grier suggested closing the underutilized building and starting from scratch.

Shameika Patterson said she heard the warnings when she applied for a position at Washington. Since then, enrollment has roughly doubled, and the school met state and federal testing targets in 2007.

"To see all the parents at the open house," Patterson said, "it makes me want to call Washington the little school that could."

International Baccalaureate

Don't let the name of this rigorous academic program intimidate you. International Baccalaureate boils down to a simple premise that students should be lifelong learners, globally aware and critical thinkers.

So this year, students at Northwood, Ferndale and Hairston can expect lessons to be light on parochial, multiple choice questions. An example of how class assignments will differ: Elementary students before would have memorized the recommended serving sizes on the U.S. Food Guide Pyramid. Under IB, students would contrast and critique the dietary guidelines of various countries.

Iris Ellington, the IB coordinator at Northwood, said she was so impressed by the program that she left an administrative position at Jesse Wharton Elementary and added 22 miles to her commute.

"It is what we want and how we want our children to learn," Ellington said. "I think children can regurgitate a lot of information. We've got to find that purpose for learning."

IB has restored hope in Ferndale, administrators said. About 30 families switched their children out of private schools, perhaps attracted by the existing IB program at High Point Central High School, said principal Mark Harris.

"Parents who have pulled their kids out have felt that we're only teaching the lower level kids, and we're not teaching the higher level or even the middle level students," Harris said.

Harris, who led Murphey Traditional Academy for three years, has poured resources into Ferndale, including hiring nine extra tutors and holding a summer camp to introduce them to IB concepts. He said he wonders if he can turn around the only school in the district that has never met federal testing targets.

"That's the scary part," he said.

Science and Technology

Welborn Principal Lori Bolds grew up in High Point. She memorizes the name of every student who comes through her doors and often runs into a parent she went to Andrews High School with. So Bolds sees the value of the new magnet in its potential to increase Welborn's population.

"What we fight is the stigma that we're not a good school," Bolds said. "I think we're the best kept secret in Guilford County."

Welborn has filled 80 of 100 magnet seats, and two High Point students enrolled after attending the math and science academy at Aycock Middle, Bolds said.

Sixth-graders were excited to see the digital projectors and wireless writing tablets in classrooms during an open house last week.

Krislyn Spears, who attended Oak View Elementary last year, said the technology makes learning fun and interesting.

"It feels more comfortable being in the school knowing it's a magnet program," said Spears, whose original attendance zone includes Ferndale. "They take the time to listen to you."

Aviation Academy

Andrews assistant principal Karen Dean has this to say to students who doubt the new academy's relevance in the 21st century: The aviation industry is not just for aspiring pilots or boys.

Twelve male students enrolled this year, but Dean expects the remaining 88 seats to fill up once students realize that a career in the industry could enable them to make a comfortable living close to home.

Despite industry downsizing brought on by rising fuel prices, local officials hope to capitalize on the construction of the new HondaJet and FedEx facilities.

"A lot of students feel when they graduate from school they have to go away," Dean said. "Our goal is to rebuild the community."

Andrews and GTCC partnered to enable students to pursue any of 10 careers, including aircraft sales and flight dispatcher, while building an engineering foundation that is suitable for other industries. Juniors will take courses at GTCC for part of the day, and students can earn up to 30 credits toward an associate's degree.

Kimberly Johnson-Hoke, president of the Parent Teacher Student Association, said the academy has opened doors for scholarships and mentorships.

"The aviation is the buzz," she said.

"That's what has all the alumni and community ... beaming to know that we have such a wonderful program coming here."

Contact Morgan Josey Glover at 373-7078 or morgan. [email protected]

(c) 2008 Greensboro News Record. Provided by ProQuest LLC. All rights Reserved.