Night school among ideas to aid struggling schools

Staff WriterAugust 24, 2007 

— Southern High School's principal and parents are considering a night school for students who have fallen behind, according to a plan Principal Rod Teal presented to the Durham school board Thursday.

"Many of [those students] work during the day, and the pull of being able to make an income is stronger than the pull of coming to school," Teal said.

The idea is one of many proposed strategies principals of Southern and two other schools brought to the board, hoping the techniques will increase the numbers of students who pass standardized tests and graduate from high school on time.

It's likely that Southern and Hillside high schools and Neal Middle School will be identified this year as low-performing schools. The schools would receive the classification if fewer than half of student test scores last year were passing. The state will release final results Sept. 6.

Meanwhile, state law requires that school districts submit detailed plans soon on how they'll help improve achievement.

In addition to the possibility of a "twilight school," Teal's ideas focus on evaluating ninth-graders and making sure they're prepared for the standards that high school brings. Freshmen who are behind in reading and math will be put in remediation until they're ready for grade-level course work.

Using grant money, Teal also will start an after-school academy for tutoring in English and math. For many students, the academy could be mandatory.

Hillside High will focus some efforts on freshmen, too, placing all incoming ninth-graders into a literacy program. Classes will be based on students' reading levels, said Principal Earl Pappy.

"You won't have lower readers in a class with high fliers," Pappy said. "So you won't have that frustration level."

Both high schools already have undergone multiple other changes last year, since a state judge required reform because of a history of low performance.

Changes begun last year include freshman academies -- environments that shelter ninth-graders and focus on the transition to high school -- and outside leadership training for principals and their staffs. Those efforts will continue.

At Neal Middle School, Principal Myron Wilson will create a sixth-grade academy, much like the high-school version for ninth-graders. And for the first time, Neal will offer geometry as a course and through a summer camp, through which students can earn high school credit.

Principals of all three schools agree more collaboration is needed among middle and high schools so students know what to expect when they get to ninth grade. Neal students could get increased exposure to Southern High School, where most Neal students go, through tours and other efforts this year.

All principals are also striving to give teachers more common planning time, something Durham officials plan to implement district-wide this year.

In other business, the board adopted a policy that will allow high school seniors to skip final exams in courses that don't require a state standardized test. To be eligible, students would be limited in the numbers of absences and tardies, a move officials hope would encourage attendance among seniors who lose motivation because they've already been accepted to college.

The school board also named Therman Flowers as the new principal of Pearsontown Elementary and Takeisha Ford as the new principal of Burton Elementary.

Staff writer Samiha Khanna can be reached at 956-2468 or samiha.khanna@newsobserver.com.

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