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Edgecombe schools launch new initiative

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Casandra Cherry, left, and Neka Duckett-Randolph, right, dance and sing along to the song they created with their fellow co workers at Phillips Middle School on Wednesday during the 'I-Zone' Kickoff at North Edgecombe High School.

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By AMELIA HARPER
Staff Writer

Saturday, August 19, 2017

LEGGETT — Roughly 100 educators from Egdecombe County Public Schools gathered this week in the cafeteria of North Edgecombe High School to celebrate creation of the new “I-Zone” in the north side of the school system.

“I-zone” is the code name for the school district’s new “Innovation Zone,” which includes North Edgecombe High School and its feeder schools — Phillips Middle School and Coker-Wimberly Elementary School. This area of the school district, which has long been plagued with poor performance scores and low graduation rates, is now the site of a new educational experiment that school district leaders hope will eventually expand and produce better results across the whole of Edgecombe County Public Schools.

“We are transforming the way we do education on the north side,” said Sylvia McGeachy, Wallace grant coordinator for the region.

The stated mission of the new Innovation Zone is “to create rigorous, authentic learning environments where students will develop into the architects of their own lives.”

Erin Swanson, director of innovation at Edgecombe County Public Schools, said this means creating higher expectations for students and helping them to envision pathways to greater success.

“What we hope to accomplish is to try to empower these students to have real choices in their lives,” Swanson said

Donnell Cannon, principal of North Edgecombe High School, said this aspect is one of the most important aspects of the I-Zone approach.

“We all have a shared desire to help kids realize their life purpose so that when they reach a crossroads in their lives, they will know where they want to go and who they want to be,” Cannon said. “This is the power of the Innovation Zone.”

The new Innovation Zone approach is based on three major pillars: leadership, ownership and partnership.

The leadership component will be seen primarily in the new “opportunity culture” that Edgecombe County Public Schools is bringing to the north side of the district. The initiative is designed to attract higher quality teachers by offering them additional salary incentives to mentor and train less experienced teachers, thus improving their teaching quality as well. The vision also includes the creation of a culture of coaching and increased opportunities for student leadership development.

The ownership component includes a new focus on project-based learning and curriculum that favors student inquiry. The Power Lunch concept — where students at North Edgecombe High School can explore enrichment opportunities during some lunch periods, falls under this heading as well.

The partnership component includes a commitment to having staff from the schools visit 100 percent of the student homes to foster a better sense of partnership in education and a commitment to providing racial equality in education. Another new feature is the incorporation of the “No-Nonsense Nurturer” approach to classroom management. This approach is designed to create a positive classroom culture by building relationships and placing high expectations on students. A part of this approach is removing the word “please” from a teacher’s vocabulary as it implies to some students that commands are optional.

“All of the teachers in the Innovation Zone are now trained in this approach,” Swanson said. “We are particularly interested in the ‘nurturing’ piece of this program because we feel positive relationships with students will aid learning.”

Teachers and administrators who are now part of the Innovation Zone came together Thursday to rally around the new Innovation Zone concept. 

“We are on to something special here,” said Jennifer O’Meara, new principal of Phillips Middle School. “I am hoping this will spark something special in this side of the state.”

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