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Commissioners press school board on Williford

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BY AMELIA HARPER
Staff Writer

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

NASHVILLE — Several Nash County commissioners met with members of the Nash-Rocky Mount school board Monday to discuss the peril that Williford Elementary School finds itself in as one of four potential candidates for state takeover.

“I am very disappointed that with the resources Nash County has available, we have got ourselves in this situation,” Robbie Davis, chairman of the Nash County Board of Commissioners told school board members. “We are trying to find out what we can do to help at this point.”

Nash County Commissioner Fred Belfield also expressed his concern over the situation.

“That school is in my commissioner district. Parents are concerned and they want to get involved. It is a sad that sometimes parents wait until it is a crisis situation and then all of the sudden they are ready to go,” Belfield said.

Dr. Shelton Jefferies told commissioners that the ball is now in the state’s court to decide if WIlliford Elementary School will be selected as a part of the new Innovative School District. Dr. Eric Hall, superintendent of the new ISD, will recommend two of the four schools to the N.C. State Board of Education in early November and the state will give final approval to the school list in December. At that time, if Williford is selected, the Nash-Rocky Mount Board of Education will have until February to decide whether to close the school or allow its inclusion in the ISD.

School board Chairwoman Wendy Wilson said Nash-Rocky Mount Public Schools has made it clear that it does not want Williford to go into the ISD. Wilson told county commissioners that the school district took significant action to try to improve Williford Elementary School last year, but that the interventions did not work.

“If you look at the data at Williford, if you go back two years, the proficiency was quite a bit higher. There was a drop two years ago, and my hope was that we would spike back up — but unfortunately, we didn’t,” Wilson said.

At the end of the 2014-15 school year, Williford had a D grade on its school report card with a 41 school performance score. At the end of the 2015-16 school year, that score had dropped slightly to a 37 school performance score and an F grade. During those two years, the school met growth. However, at the end of the 2016-17 school year, the score plummeted to a 26 school performance score, the lowest of the four schools, and it did not meet growth.

Jefferies explained that Williford, which is home to about 450 students, faces some unique challenges that impact the school’s scores. One of the major challenges the school faces is attracting and retaining quality teachers, Jefferies said.

“At Williford, we are confronted with an incredibly novice teacher force. More than a third come from a non-traditionalist path or are in their first three years of teaching,” Jefferies said.

Davis said Nash County commisisoners want to know what they can do to help. He said commissioners are open to discussions about raising teacher supplements or offering incentive pay for teachers who are teaching in hard-to-staff schools, as suggested by school board member Evelyn Bulluck.

“It is the opinion of our board members that we are doing a fairly good job of funding the schools. Where our interest seems to be unified across the board is the issue of teacher incentives or supplements. When we usually give you money, we don’t have the right by statute to intervene in where that money goes. When we do supplements, we at least know it is going to the teachers, and that is where we have the most comfort level. That’s the only way we see to help the situation,” Davis said.

Davis asked Jefferies to explain why the school district did not apply last year for a restart model or transformation model for Williford, a move that would have prevented the school from being considered for the ISD.

“Our rationale is that we have not pursued a reform model for a specific school because we are pursuing it for the whole district,” Jefferies said. “We have not engaged in the gamesmanship. But that's not to say this process has not been an eye-opener for us and that might change in the immediate future.”

The two bodies plan to work on a joint resolution to send to state legislators expressing their desire for the state to leave WIlliford out of the ISD. That resolution should be drafted this week by the school board at a special called meeting at 1 p.m. on Wednesday and presented to Nash County commissioners on Monday for approval.

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