Edgecombe schools seek opportunities


By Amelia Harper
Staff Writer

Sunday, January 15, 2017

A Chapel Hill-based company is hoping to expand opportunities for teachers and students in Edgecombe County by introducing an “Opportunity Culture” to Edgecombe County Public Schools.

“Most of the nation’s districts are in small towns and rural communities, which face huge challenges attracting and keeping enough great teachers,” said Public Impact co-director Bryan C. Hassel. “With its demonstrated track record of innovation and resilience, Edgecombe’s an ideal district to blaze a path for similar districts seeking to change this.”

Public Impact is a national organization that started in 1996 in Chapel Hill. The organizational mission is to “dramatically improve learning outcomes for all children in the U.S., with a special focus on students who are not served well.” Edgecombe County Public Schools Superintendent John Farrelly introduced Public Impact and its “Opportunity Culture” to the Board of Education in November.

“We are thrilled about partnering with Public Impact to bring Opportunity Culture to Edgecombe County Public Schools,” Farrelly said. “We know that providing an excellent education for all of our students requires exceptional teaching in every classroom, every day. Opportunity Culture will enable us to attract and retain highly effective teacher leaders, who will build the capacity of the teachers on their teams and help promote a culture of achievement and innovation throughout the district.”

Edgecombe County Public Schools has been plagued for several years with a higher than average teacher turnover rate, making it difficult for the school system to attract and retain teachers. Farrelly attributes much of that issue to competition from nearby school districts, which offer higher teacher supplements. In 2016, Edgecombe County raised the teacher supplement from 5 percent to 7 percent. However, that still falls well below the 10 percent supplement offered by Nash-Rocky Mount Public Schools.

Farrelly is hoping the new Opportunity Culture offered by Public Impact will provide another way for teachers to earn pay increases.

Public Impact says an Opportunity Culture creates a plan whereby a team of teachers and administrators at each school choose among models that use job redesign and age-appropriate technology to reach more students with personalized, high-standards instruction — a hallmark of great teaching. School teams redesign schedules to provide additional school-day time for teacher planning and collaboration, typically with accountable teacher-leaders called “multi-classroom leaders” leading teams and providing frequent, on-the-job development and mentoring to other teachers under their care.

The school design teams then reallocate school budgets to fund pay supplements for these teacher-leaders permanently, in contrast to temporarily grant-funded programs. In other Opportunity Culture sites created by Public Impact, pay supplements have been as high as 50 percent and an average of about 20 percent of base salaries, Public Impact reports. The initiative is being used at 17 sites in seven states, including three other sites in North Carolina.

In the 2017–18 academic year, Edgecombe County Public Schools plans to begin with three Opportunity Culture schools on the north side that form a feeder pattern and a new “innovation zone.” These schools include Coker-Wimberly Elementary School, Phillips Middle School and North Edgecombe High School. The district plans to begin implementing the Opportunity Culture initiative in the Tarboro and Princeville feeder schools in the 2018–19 academic year, and in the south side feeder schools and Edgecombe Early College High School the following year.

Farrelly sees this new initiative as a way to benefit teachers and students alike. Public Impact already has a track record of increasing school performance at other sites where it operates. In the 2015–16 school year, 59 percent of the Opportunity Culture schools in North Carolina exceeded student growth expectations, compared to 28 percent of schools in North Carolina that exceeded expectations overall, according to school performance data from the N.C Department of Public Instruction.