Monday, April 15, 2024

NHCS superintendent defends student achievement, says district is ‘smoking’ 100 others statewide 

Acording to superintendent Charles Foust, New Hanover County’s 61% literacy rate is the 15th highest in the state. (Port City Daily/File)

NEW HANOVER COUNTY — The superintendent of New Hanover County Schools attempted to set the record straight when it comes to student achievement Thursday.

READ MORE: State report card: 7 tri-county schools back to passing, chronic low-performing schools still struggling

The New Hanover County Board of Education held a work session to discuss feedback members received during last year’s town halls, where residents can address issues and ask questions to the board. Among the common themes were student discipline and mental health, special education, student cell phone use, staff retention and student achievement. 

Board member Hugh McManus began the conversation by suggesting the district mandate summer school for struggling students. He said they would likely be frightened by the results if the district’s high school students were made to take an eighth grade reading exam.  

“We’ve got to raise the bar,” McManus said. 

Barnhart said she wanted to see the success rate of targeted intervention tutoring, which the district has implemented at some of its lowest-performing schools, and explore expanding the effort if successful.

Later in the meeting, board member Melissa Mason asked about the efficacy of Wit & Wisdom, the reading curriculum NHCS started using in its elementary schools this school year. Mason said she heard the curriculum was too rigorous for some students, as told to her by some teachers. 

Overall feedback, according to Chief Academic Officer Patrice Faison, has been positive. She reminded the board there’s a three-year adjustment period for any curriculum implementation.

Eventually, Superintendent Charles Foust jumped in to correct the narrative. 

“People come to work everyday and they deliver, and all we harp on is the negative,” Foust said. 

He noted New Hanover County’s 61% literacy rate is the 15th highest in the state. There are only 10 percentage points separating the district from the top spot, occupied by the smaller and richer Chapel Hill school district, Foust added.

“There are 100 districts that you are academically smoking right now,” Foust said. 

He added the district’s reading scores were also outpacing the national average. NHCS also received the first statewide “Champion of Change” Award from the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction for the district’s “extraordinary and comprehensive efforts to improve student literacy.”

“Our district looks like we’ve never been in pandemic-mode,” Foust said. 

The superintendent did contend work needed to be done in the district’s math I scores, but qualified it by saying the scores are the highest they’ve ever been and the problem is statewide. 

Board member Stephanie Walker agreed but said the district still has work to do. 

“I’m happy to cheer and highlight a lot of these things, but I also feel like where we aren’t doing as well, we should address that and that’s what’s reflected in these town halls,” Walker said. “I will say, and I’m a person that did community management for a long time, usually, you don’t hear from people unless they’re very upset.” 

The district has seven schools marked as “low-performing” by the North Carolina Department of Instruction, which means they received a D or F in their academic scores and did not exceed growth expectations. 

The schools include Rachel Freeman School of Engineering (F), College Park Elementary (D), the Career Readiness Academy at Moseley (D), Snipes Academy of Arts & Design (D), Forest Hills Global Elementary (F), Williston Middle Schools (F) and Wrightsboro Elementary (D). The latter three schools were reported failing to meet growth expectations, while the others met theirs. 

Two of the schools, Freeman and Forest Hills, are also Title I schools due to their high percentage of students from low-income households. These schools also tend to have higher minority populations. 

“I think that you’ll find in our high priority schools, a lot of it is tied with levels of poverty, and I think all resources really should start at the very beginning,” Walker said. “That means, you know, adding — if we could in a perfect world, if we had that magic wand — more pre-K programs, have things that are very early because once you get later on, it’s a little bit more difficult to catch up.” 

The board did not take any action at the work session, but will instead use the insights to guide further policy and budget decisions. 

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Shea Carver
Shea Carver
Shea Carver is the editor in chief at Port City Daily. A UNCW alumna, Shea worked in the print media business in Wilmington for 22 years before joining the PCD team in October 2020. She specializes in arts coverage — music, film, literature, theatre — the dining scene, and can often be tapped on where to go, what to do and who to see in Wilmington. When she isn’t hanging with her pup, Shadow Wolf, tending the garden or spinning vinyl, she’s attending concerts and live theater.

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