County school system continues to shine

Oct 11, 2016

The ascent of the Haywood County School system from one that ranked in the middle of the pack about a decade ago to the top 10 percent in the state is a story worth knowing about.

This newspaper has followed the progress every step of the way, and readers need to know — or be reminded — that the accomplishments didn’t come by accident.

As with so many feats, it is one that began with the end in mind. The journey started when every school board member and school administrator was asked to read the book titled “Good to Great” by Jim Collins, who is well known as a business guru, author and motivational speaker.

After much discussion, a goal was set for Haywood County Schools to rank in the top 10 percent of each measurable task, whether it was in the classroom, on the athletic field, in the music competitions or any other school-related activities.

Once all the leaders were on the same page, the goals were implemented methodically by getting buy-in from staff, providing training opportunities and monitoring progress each step of the way.

What makes Haywood schools a bit different than others in the state — something referred to as an “outlier” in acedemic circles — is that despite the high poverty rate within the student population, it is still successful. There is a strong correlation between poverty and lower performance on standard tests.

The poverty rate is measured by the number of students who apply for the federal free or reduced lunch program, and in Haywood, that number is between 54 and 57 percent, depending on the school. That rate is one that is considered high in comparison to other systems.

Haywood County School Superintendent Anne Garrett said it was decided early on that poverty would not be used as an excuse for not setting or meeting the 10 percent goal. Addressing the issue head-on, a book by Ruby Payne, “A Framework for Understanding Poverty,” was ordered en masse and became the standard go-to reference book for breaking through barriers not understood previously.

Associate Superintendent Bill Nolte is our go-to person to understand how the school grades/performance data is determined and interpreted. It was fascinating to learn the letter grades given to schools are based not just on test scores, but partly in how much each student progresses in a year’s time. Growth is something Haywood values as much as performance, because, as Nolte said, it is important that each and every student achieves a year’s growth in a school year.

Parents who want to learn more about their child’s academic progress have plenty of resources available through the school system to find out their child’s strengths, weaknesses and how to address both. The information is available to the child’s teacher, as well, which is just as important. It is hard to help a child master a challenging subject or catapult to the top of their ability in another without having baseline information.

The recently released state test scores show Haywood Schools are 11th out of 115 school districts in the state, a rank that puts them squarely in the top 10 percent. The accomplishment is one that should have school board members, administrators, teachers and auxiliary staff bursting with pride. Parents need to be equally as proud.

Achieving such an accomplishment doesn’t just happen. It takes everyone pulling together in the same direction, and is an honor with benefits that can ripple through the entire community.