Prep school scores show little progress


Staff Writer

Sunday, September 16, 2018

Rocky Mount Prep’s school performance scores are showing little signs of improving, and some parents are concerned that decisions by school leaders are hindering their children’s academic growth.

Rocky Mount Prep's overall scores remain essentially flat from last year. The school maintains a D rating, though the school performance score showed a slight uptick from 45 to 46. Growth was not met this year, the same result as last year. The school's overall performance is among the worst in the North Central charter school region.

“I am not pleased with our school rating, but our staff has worked hard to improve the school’s academic performance grade. Our staff is committed and works relentless to provide a high-quality education and is pinpointing those areas of focus that will contribute to the greatest gains moving forward,” said Todd Pipkin, head of school for Rocky Mount Prep.

Dr. Chaunte Garrett, chief academic officer of the charter school, said there were some bright spots in the data.

“Our growth score increased — fifth-grade reading, math and science saw up to 23 percent increases in proficiency, and our science achievement score increased,” Garrett said.

Garrett said the school has implemented a new plan of instruction that has not yet borne fruit.

“We implemented a strong academic achievement plan beginning in 2016. We remain committed to the implementation of this plan. We spent the last two years laying the foundation, systems and processes for our team to implement best practices with fidelity,” Garrett said.

That plan, Garrett said, includes an intense focus on professional development for teachers, an instructional coaching model to support teachers and a focus on building strong relationships with students and families.

“As a leadership team, we are providing all resources needed to improve our academic grade by continuously evaluating all school data as it relates to academic and social development of our scholars. Over the last two years, we have instituted a diversification of multiple systematic changes that will start to produce the positive academic outcomes all are looking for,” Pipkin said.

Garrett said the school also is forging new partnerships to meet the challenge.

“We are embarking on new partnerships with local entities. Nash Community College is supporting us in providing content-based professional development in mathematics. We also have a new partnership with Teach For America,” Garrett said. “We began a partnership with the North Carolina State University Math/Science Education Network last year that won our scholars a statewide recognition. We will continue and add another cohort of scholars to participate. We are also in conversation with Cummins to bring a robotics program to our high school.”

The overhaul of the instructional model for the school has been necessary to help the school overcome the challenges it faces, Garrett said.

“One of our biggest challenges that our team is working to undo is the impact of years of poor instruction and learning gaps created by the many changes in the past. Our scholars have felt the impact of this academically and social-emotionally. Recruiting highly qualified staff is also a challenge,” Garrett said.

The staffing component, especially at the high school level, is one of the areas that worry parents most.

In a letter sent Aug. 21 to Dave Machado, director of the office of charter schools, a parent wrote:

It is very frustrating to sit back and watch the disarray unfold at Rocky Mount Preparatory School. ... Many of the students have numerous online CORE classes. Some have substitute teachers that have limited knowledge in the subject area. Morale is low and teachers, the good, permanent ones, are still leaving. Hearing the excuse ‘all schools are experiencing high turnover’ is unacceptable. At the end of the day it is the student who suffers. They are not receiving the quality education they should be receiving. When it comes time for end-of-grade testing, they will not be prepared due to lack of resources needed to be successful,” the email said.

Students also have expressed concerns over the issue. In a email written on Aug. 21 to Ricky Park , chairman of the board of trustees of the school, a senior at the school wrote:

“Currently, I have no teachers as well as no principle (sic),” the email said. “As of now all of our classes are going to be took online, me personally I can't learn online classes. It has to be hands on and I have to do it for myself. Our school is extremely unorganized and there is no structure at all. There are mostly substitutes through-out our high-school that are not completely capable of discipline or know what they are doing to help us succeed.”

Pipkin told the Telegram that much of the confusion over this issue has to do with the move to a  blended model of learning where more courses at the high school level are taken online.

“These courses are very challenging because we are trying to raise the academic standard,” Pipkin said. “We do have some long-term substitutes in place, but most of them are retired certified teachers. We are working to hire permanent teachers, but we are making sure we choose the best ones who understand our students. We are not going to just put anyone in the classroom.”

Garrett said the school has made other curriculum changes as well.

“Last year, our team realized that the curriculum used in the elementary school did not provide the depth, fluency and comprehension exposures needed to support learning for our scholars,” Garrett said. “So grades K-3 are implementing a new reading curriculum. We piloted it in kindergarten last year and it went very well. In addition, we have a renewed focus on implementing the state-aligned curriculum with fidelity. We also made additional investments in curriculum for our courses that do not end in state assessments.” 

Garrett said she expects to see academic improvements in the future.

“We are being strategic, we are doing the right things and we are committed to seeing our scholars succeed. We know it will happen because our first lens whenever making a decision at Rocky Mount Prep is always, ‘What is best for kids?’ Next, we are reminded, we are planning for the standard, not the limitation. And we proceed from there. We appreciate a one-point increase in our school performance score. We celebrate it. But we will not settle for it,” Garrett said.

Pipkin agreed.

“I believe that the work that many of our staff have committed to over the last 24 months will start to flourish this year. I am confident that our school is moving in the right direction — and with support from parents and the community, our school will reach the academic goals. We will continue to strive for excellence by developing the whole child,” Pipkin said.