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School Boards, leaders aim to raise student achievement
The Nash-Rocky Mount and Edgecombe County school boards met Monday night to receive an update from the Strategic Twin-Counties Education Partnership (STEP) on their work toward increasing student achievement.

STEP is a non-profit group newly formed by area leaders in Nash and Edgecombe counties and the city of Rocky Mount. The group plans to take four years to accomplish specific goals for the community, centered on increasing student achievement.

Vann Langston, a retired school administrator and educational consultant, serves as STEP’s facilitator. He reviewed with the boards STEP’s main goals: increasing student “workforce readiness,” improving graduation rates by improving “completion rates” at all grade levels and “third grade literacy,” as well as “greater alignment and engagement of community sectors working for children and families.”

“STEP believes that, by focusing on building the capacity for continuous improvement into our districts and communities, it will leave in its wake a Twin Counties region equipped to grow into a better future on its own,” he said.

In December 2011, both school boards signed resolutions, agreeing that “broad public conversation is needed to develop a shared vision of a higher quality of life for all citizens,” Langston said. There is “much more our children can achieve than what they’re currently achieving.”

“Schools can’t do this by themselves,” he postulated. “We have to support families better than we are if we want higher achievement.”

“The rest of the community has to improve” along with the schools, he said. We need to “build stronger families” and “change adult behaviors. We need to make stronger families in this community.”

 As part of the STEP update, Cummins Rocky Mount Engine Plant executives announced their contribution of $50, 000 along with a Cummins Foundation $175,000 grant. Langston added that so far, local businesses have pledged $20,000. STEP’s 22-member working group plans to meet this Wednesday to determine how to begin using these funds immediately toward accomplishing their goals.

For instance, Langston said, as one of the key items cut out of the schools’ budgets is professional development, STEP could organize and fund this immediately to fill this important gap.

STEP is “well aligned and coordinated with the Twin County Community Visioning Project from May 7 and beyond,” Langston said. The focus is “not on competition” but “on building teamwork and collaboration across our school districts and across all community groups and agencies.”

To achieve their goals, STEP secured Langston as its facilitator in April, received non-profit status in May, and gathered support and input from the community in addition to initiating team building in May and June. In addition, STEP created a group of Edgecombe County Schools (ECS) and Nash-Rocky Mount Schools (NRMS) instructional leaders to work together on a regular basis and applied to Cummins Foundation for a seed money grant for 2012-13.

Their next steps are to “seek a three-year implementation grant from Cummins and other foundations,” hire an executive director, “fully staff a board of directors and community action coalition,” help to line up “school district needs assessments and strategic planning,” and “support staff development and policy development in both school districts.”

“There are so many things that can be done when we work together on a regular basis,” Langston said. The ECS and NRMS systems have many things in common, such as curriculum, assessments, numbers of low socio-economic students, and workforce needs, he said. The benefits of working together include “reduced costs from economies of scale; higher quality professional development by pooling resources and expertise from STEP, ECS, and NRMS; and simpler interface between business and education.”

To help businesses and schools connect, he said, “STEP can create an arena where businesses get with schools and create a common language.” This communication will enable students to earn certificates that prove they are ready for the workplace, he explained.

“Congratulations to the approach you’re taking. This is important to the company and to me personally,” said Cummins Vice President Dave Crompton. “I’m thrilled to be a part of it.”

NRMS board member Robert Bynum expressed his interest in how the STEP community coalition will be formed. Langston explained that 8-10 criteria would be used to select these members. He also agreed with Bynum that the dissemination of information to the public is key for STEP to reach its goals.

Langston assured NRMS board member Bob Jenkins that STEP will work under the authority of all elected boards and officials as the group proceeds. He also said that regular updates on STEP work would be given to NRMS and ECS superintendents to disseminate to the boards.

Rocky Mount Mayor David Combs asked if STEP would continue working past their four-year commitment. Langston said STEP plans to complete its goals in four years, and if they were to continue, that would be determined then.

Franklin Lamm, NRMS board vice chairman, said that for the whole community to be involved, key leaders from Nash County should be invited to the table — mayors from Nash County towns have yet to be included.

Along with ECS board members, NRMS board chairman Evelyn Bulluck and NRMS board member Reginald Silver said they hope and believe the collaboration between the boards will make the community stronger.

ECS instructional staff says they hope that STEP “won’t provide previous training again” and “won’t develop a plan without defined and measurable outcomes in mind.” And NRMS instructional staff says they hope that STEP “won’t be a series of endless meetings that result in plenty of talk and little measureable action” and “won’t further divide the school district and/or the community.”

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