New Jackson County Public Schools leader ‘rolling up his sleeves’

Dr. Michael Murray, Jackson County Schools’ new superintendent, has hit the ground running.  He’s been unpacking boxes, visiting schools, meeting with folks – even having a chance to hang out with some students.  And, just a month after he has started, the ‘new guy’ has a report on his desk that tells him how the schools he now leads are doing. 

“What we’ve learned from this Adequate Yearly Progress Report is that we’re doing some things really well, and we’ve still got some things to work on,” said Dr. Murray.

For the 2010-11 school year, four out of Jackson County Public Schools’ nine schools achieved Adequate Yearly Progress, or AYP.  In accordance with the federal No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (NCLB), AYP is a measurement that allows the U.S. Department of Education to determine how every public school and school district in America is performing – based on the results of standardized tests in reading and math and a number of other measures.

NCLB requires states like North Carolina to establish annual achievement targets for its schools. 

“The tricky part is that a school must meet every single one of the targets that apply to them in order to achieve AYP.  It is an all-or-nothing model,” Murray continued.  “So, you’ve got to dig a little deeper and see what the data are telling you about the children and how they’re doing; you can’t just take it at face value,” said Murray.

“Of the 102 targets set for Jackson County Schools, we met or exceeded 87 of those,” said Ken Henke, Chairman of the Jackson County Board of Education.   “I am also pleased to see that we’ve continued to make steady progress in many areas – with all of our schools meeting targets for graduation, attendance and the number of students being assessed.”

The No Child Left Behind Act makes provisions for schools that do not demonstrate AYP. Those that do not meet AYP for two years in a row are identified as ‘schools in need of improvement.’  And, there is a specific designation used by the U.S. Department of Education called ‘federal school improvement status’ which applies to schools that receive Title I funds. 

In Jackson County, “most all of our elementary schools receive Title I funds,” said Terri Hollifield, Title I Director.  “We work very hard to make sure that we’re using our Title I funds to make the biggest impact for kids by implementing research-based strategies and best practices.”

State education agencies and local school districts across the United States have developed numerous strategies designed to improve AYP.  One of the strategies being used in Jackson County is Math Camp.

 “Math Camp is a program put in place to help students build math skills that will prepare them for future success in school – as well as improve their chances of performing well on standardized tests that measure how well they are learning important math concepts,” said Steve Jones, Jackson County Public Schools Associate Superintendent. 

“The best thing about Math Camp is we’re doing math, but we’re having lots of fun too,” said Kendra Hall, a rising fourth-grader from Scotts Creek Elementary.

“Another improvement strategy we’re really excited about is the hiring of district-wide math and literacy coaches,” said Kathryn Kantz, Principal at Cullowhee Valley Elementary.  “These folks will work directly with teachers to help them explore and implement teaching and learning practices that are proven to be good for students.”

“Jackson County Schools is not alone in striving to improve AYP – many school districts in the region, state and nation are in the same situation,” said Murray.  “You won’t see us expending energy making excuses about these results; what we are doing is using this information to strengthen our ability to help students.”

“I really believe I’m in the right place, at the right time, with the right group of people – rolling up my sleeves to work side by side with the educators, parents and people in the community to make good things happen for the children of Jackson County,” he added.