Beaufort Success Story
Sustained support for turnaround work is hard to achieve. To effect significant improvements in student achievement requires that hard decisions be made, such as closing schools and rezoning. Through intense training, mediocre teachers become stronger and more focused on rigorous learning. However, staff who do not meet expectations are sometimes reassigned or not invited back. Tough decisions upset status quo and public support for change is hard to sustain.
When we first tackled achievement in 2007, there were four schools rated Unsatisfactory (on the state At Risk list). Without those four schools in the data mix, the district's improvement rating would have been excellent. So, ALL principals joined in supporting the lowest achievers by sharing high quality teachers and distributing challenged teachers to other schools. The most dynamic principals were invited to tackle a challenge of accelerating learning. The four components of accelerated learning model we used were: rigorous curriculum for all, especially in mathematics; high quality teachers assigned to high poverty schools, charged with achieving more than a year's growth in one year for each child; extended learning time by adding twenty days to the school year for at risk learners; and a dynamic turnaround principal. One school was named the Founder's Award by Milken Family Foundation and won the National School Change Award.
Beaufort County School District has moved from a district in Corrective Action, to a district with a grade of B on the new ESEA ratings. From a Below Average improvement rating to a Good improvement rating by the state's Education Oversight Committee's report cards, Beaufort County has made great strides academically by accelerating learning. In 2007, the district had 4 Unsatisfactory schools and no Excellent schools. In 2012, the state report cards indicated no Unsatisfactory rated schools and 8 Excellent schools. 93% of all schools are rated Average, Good or Excellent in 2012. A Title One High School built in a rural, high (over 90%) poverty area as an early college high school achieved 100% graduation rate with 83% of seniors graduating with college acceptance letters in hand.
Restructuring a school district requires that we focus on stretching all learners, not just those in historically underperforming schools. We focused International Baccalaureate programs K-12 in one attendance cluster, and formed magnet programs in other areas, such as an Aviation and Engineering magnet, a Military magnet, an Early College magnet. In two elementary schools, we began Advanced Math Engineering and Science (AMES) magnets for gifted learners and infused robotics and animation in elementary schools. Emphasizing public school choice, we positioned schools to identify their unique niche as well as partnered with a charter school that stretches its students as well.