Rivers: District too slow to seek input

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Wayne James (right), band director at Northeastern High School, makes a point about low test scores as Elizabeth City-Pasquotank Public Schools Superintendent Larry Cartner listens during a meeting on school reform plans at the Debry Community Center, Tuesday.

Keith Rivers.jpg

By William F. West
Staff Writer

Monday, March 20, 2017

The leader of the Pasquotank County NAACP is accusing Elizabeth City-Pasquotank Public Schools officials of being too slow to seek public input about four low-performing schools now scheduled for in-house reforms.

"We need to be at the table from the beginning, not in the end," Keith Rivers said Tuesday evening at a community meeting on the school district’s reform plans held at the Debry Community Center. "We should have had this meeting six months ago."

Rivers was responding to Superintendent Larry Cartner’s announcement last week that the school district has adopted in-house reform plans for Pasquotank Elementary, River Road Middle, P.W. Moore Elementary and Elizabeth City Middle schools.

All four schools have consistently received D grades on the state’s A-F grading scale and, under North Carolina law, each could be taken over by a state entity if the Elizabeth City-Pasquotank Public Schools doesn’t adopt reform plans to improve student performance.

Under the reform process the district has adopted that takes effect July 1, Pasquotank Elementary and River Road will be subject to a “restart” plan, while P.W. Moore Elementary and Elizabeth City Middle will be subject to a “transformation” plan.

Rivers asked Cartner why if there are four failing schools in the district, information about only two of them — Pasquotank Elementary and River Road Middle — was presented at Tuesday’s meeting. Rivers argued his research shows students at P.W. Moore Elementary and Elizabeth City Middle have fared worse on testing than students at Pasquotank Elementary and River Road Middle.

Cartner said the principals at P.W. Moore Elementary and ECMS elected to handle their reforms internally. He has also noted the principal at P.W. Moore Elementary has been in place less than a year, while the principal at Elizabeth City Middle has been in place less than two years. The principals at Pasquotank Elementary and River Road have been at the schools for some time.

Rivers said it’s his belief that students’ low performance on state testing is a result of issues involving both race and social class. He also noted that Pasquotank Elementary and River Road Middle both have African-American principals, while P.W. Moore Elementary and ECMS have white principals, but all four schools “have been failing and low-performing for years."

"So, it just didn't start with leadership," he said.

While the school district is discussing the problems at the four schools, Rivers asked why there was no talk about what’s happening at Sheep-Harney Elementary School. He noted the school has undergone a turnaround in performance as a result of community involvement, good leadership and a change in student demographics.

Pressing Cartner to be more open with school district data, Rivers also claimed in-house surveys of teachers at Pasquotank Elementary were “outstanding” yet weren't included in Cartner's handout on Tuesday evening. Cartner told Rivers teacher feedback at Pasquotank Elementary wasn't exceptionally good, but he noted the results weren’t as bad as at River Road Middle.

During Cartner’s press conference last week, he released data showing that, at River Road Middle School, 17 teachers combined for a total of 109 absences the first semester of 2015-16. Similar data for Pasquotank Elementary School showed 10 teachers were responsible for 43 reported absences during the first semester of 2015-16.

The absences at Pasquotank Elementary weren’t included in Cartner's handout on Tuesday evening, however. When Rivers brought up the omission, Cartner told him, "I took it off because you complained about it." Rivers denied he had complained to Cartner about the teacher absences at Pasquotank Elementary.

Rivers also asked Cartner whether River Road Middle had fallen a single point short of being classified as a C school instead of a D school. "It wasn't close," Cartner replied.

Tuesday’s meeting was one of two Cartner conducted on the reform plans this week. The second was held Wednesday evening at the Pasquotank Public Library.

During Wednesday’s meeting, Rivers continued to press Cartner for full disclosure of data about all four low-performing schools. He said the entire community needs to be united to save schoolchildren.

"When two elephants fight, the only thing that gets trampled is the grass — and in this case, it's the grass," he said.

Tony Flach, board president of the Education Foundation for the Elizabeth City-Pasquotank Public Schools, also attended Wednesday’s meeting. He said data about the district’s schools are posted on the N.C. Department of Instruction’s website.

Additionally, Flach noted that Elizabeth City-Pasquotank Board of Education meetings are open to the public.

“If you have concerns, I’d urge you to go,” he told the audience.