SNOW HILL – County leaders and school system officials reaffirmed their commitment to working together as they met last week for a “State of our Schools” address from the superintendent.
The Worcester County Commissioners joined the Worcester County Board of Education and school system leadership last Tuesday for a lunch and presentation from Superintendent Lou Taylor.
“We look forward to continuing this tradition,” said Bill Gordy, president of the school board.
Taylor told the commissioners that each year, he visited each of the county’s schools and spoke to their school improvement advisory committees. This year, he wanted to share that presentation with the county’s leaders. He said it was meant to provide the commissioners with information so they could better answer to their constituents and it was also part of an effort to return the relationship between the commissioners and the school board to what it was years ago.
“I remember as a young teacher many, many years ago where the commissioners and the board of education got together, they had lunch, they shared, they talked,” Taylor said. “Everybody worked well together. Unfortunately, years back we got away from that.”
Taylor reviewed the components of the Worcester County Public School strategic plan — academics, safety, communication and organizational effectiveness — and provided detailed information about the state’s new school accountability system. Each of the county’s eligible schools received four out of a possible five stars under the new system.
Taylor introduced Amy Gallagher, coordinator of accountability and assessment for the school system, who explained how education officials had monitored the new system as it was being implemented and were now analyzing its ratings to see how local schools could improve.
“It presents a huge challenge for our teachers,” Taylor said. “It presents a moving target for them.”
Literacy and Title I Coordinator Dee Shorts told the commissioners that Worcester led the state in kindergarten readiness.
“We all know research says that if kids aren’t ready in kindergarten their chances of falling behind are greater as we go through the grade levels,” she said. “This year we’re very proud that Worcester County is number one in the state in kindergarten readiness.”
Taylor said that that was particularly rewarding because while some counties received funding for all-day pre-k programs, Worcester did not.
As far as college readiness, Chief Operating Officer Annette Wallace said staff had spent the past eight years working to address the concern that local high school graduates weren’t ready for the next level of education. She said that might have been a problem in the past but it wasn’t anymore.
“We had an issue with that but Worcester County Public Schools has worked very hard,” she said.
The latest statistics revealed that 83 percent of graduates were deemed ready for “credit bearing courses” in math while 90 percent were ready in English language arts.
“We hope to see the data from the rest of the state in the next month but we have a feeling that these numbers will stand ahead of everyone else in the state,” she said. “We feel very good about preparing our students for college and careers beyond us.”
Commissioner Chip Bertino asked how the scores compared among the county’s three high schools.
“I don’t want to dance around it,” Wallace said. “Stephen Decatur High School’s scores were not as high as everyone else’s.”
She stressed that none of the schools’ scores were bad but that Decatur’s were a bit lower than the other county schools.
Taylor said he was not pleased with the information but was confident that the situation could be improved.
“We think we can get all three schools at a high standard…,” he said, adding that students in Worcester County were still better prepared than those in many other jurisdictions. “Compared to the state we’re in great shape.”
Taylor said the school system was also meeting the state’s target of 45 percent enrollment in career and technology programs such as those offered at Worcester Technical High School.
“Most kids who struggle with education are outstanding with their hands,” Taylor said, adding that they liked things like working on cars, welding and other trades taught at Worcester Tech. “We’ve got to help them… There’s big money to be made in those areas. We’ve got to turn them on that we’ve got a place for them to make sure they meet that success.”