Initiatives target failing Wilson County elementary schools

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The Wilson County Board of Education sought to give two failing elementary schools a boost of support Monday.

School officials presented a plan for B.O. Barnes and Margaret Hearne elementary schools to adopt charter school-like flexibilities after receiving failing school performance grades for two of the last three years. Under the plan, both schools would be given flexibility with regard to the school calendar, staff licensure, the budget and the curriculum. 

"The restart applications allow us to provide flexibilities in areas we typically do not have such and because of the low-performing status, this was another tool we could take advantage of for the students in those schools," said Superintendent Lane Mills.

The board went into a nearly hour-long closed session prior to voting to approve the applications to the N.C. Department of Public Instruction. Mills said he expects to the applications to be approved in the coming months and while some efforts — such as recruiting working professionals to provide a real-world perspective — will have to wait, other initiatives are underway. 

For example, teachers at both schools received training this summer for enhanced curriculum that emphasizes literacy, vocabulary, reading and writing as well as strengthening partnerships within the community.

"Focus on the 'whole child' by the increased use of wrap-around services to students, parents and families," the application states. "There will be intensified efforts to engage community partners, medical professionals, and local leaders and role models to address comprehensive needs of the families and move the students in positive directions physically, mentally, emotionally and academically."

Terri Cobb will serve as the restart coach for both schools. Cobb, who started her career in Wilson County Schools in 1978, has a history of working with underperforming schools to improve student outcomes. While the state applications do not provide additional funding, the schools will have the ability to use existing funds in different ways if the plan is approved.

"In short, as much as B.O. Barnes needs the community, the community needs B.O. Barnes to succeed," according to the application.

Hearne Elementary's success was particularly stressed with regard to further-reaching consequences.

"Margaret Hearne Elementary is part of the inner city central zone of Wilson, where a large number of high school graduates choose to remain after graduation or return after pursuing career opportunities or higher education elsewhere," Hearne's application states. "Wilson County Schools' graduates drive the economy, business, industry and progress in the city and county."