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Newton-Conover City Schools leaders said this week that community involvement is the key to helping students succeed.
"We're trying to reach out to the community on ground outside school," Newton-Conover High School Principal Kevin Campbell said. "We're trying to get parents to give us feedback on what we can do better. We want to get parents and students on board, so they realize it's not us versus them, it's all of us trying to work together to accomplish something."
Campbell presented a NCHS improvement plan to the Newton-Conover City Schools Board of Education on Monday night.
He shared that, in recent months, NCHS reached out to the community for ideas on how to improve student performance and character. The high school held outreach programs at Thomas Chapel AME Zion, St. Paul's United Methodist and St. Joseph's Catholic churches in an effort to get students and parents more involved.
He also showed the board that the school has made big strides in recent years in improving end-of-course test scores in Algebra II and in Civics and Economics. He said the high school posted an 85.2 percent graduation rate last year.
"We set a 92 percent goal, and we would have been very close if students did not make decisions they made near the end of the year," Campbell said. "We would like to see 100 percent. We believe one person not graduating is one too many."
NCHS failed to meet federal Adequate Yearly Progress standards last year. Only two of the school's 17 subgroups â€” black boys in reading and math â€” failed to meet proficiency targets.
School board member Betty Coulter said that stat troubled her.
"Whenever we look at results, it's very concerning to me that when we have a group struggling, it's African-American males," Coulter said.
"It takes a whole community to change that."
Coulter said her church hosted a community outreach meeting for the high school and offers programs to elementary and middle school students who are struggling with various essential skills, such as constructing simple sentences.
Campbell and school board Chairman Scott Loudermelt said students and parents are often more comfortable in non-school settings, such as churches.
"Our staff does a great job teaching the content," Campbell said.
"We've got to continue to build on that relationship piece â€” making sure students and parents feel valued."
Loudermelt told Campbell he believes the community track is the route to take to improve student performance.
Loudermelt and school board member Kyle Drum also told Newton-Conover Health Science High School Principal John Robinson they are available to help bring resources to his school.
Robinson also presented a school improvement plan to the board Monday night. He said the school wants to emphasize academic rigor and positive behavior, increase the number of students who earn passing scores on Advanced Placement (AP) exams, and increase the amount of college and career information available to students, among other goals.
"If you've got 95 percent proficiency on state tests, proficiency isn't the issue," Robinson said. "We've got to step up the rigor to help them grow where they are. To get that growth, we're going to have to work a lot harder."
Drum reflected on his own high school and college education experience.
He said he expected to graduate from high school, go to college, graduate from college and get a high-paying job. He said he had no specific career goals.
"I think I was blind to a lot of career opportunities," Drum said. "If (students) have a career ambition in mind, I think that's more valuable. We can get local professionals involved in our schools. We have unbelievable companies with unbelievable career opportunities in this area that we're all blind to."
Robinson said the Health Science High School already works to provide students with college tips, provide career and interest surveys, encourage college campus visits and promote general college interest.
He said college acceptance letters are posted along a school hallway.
Drum and Loudermelt suggested that school leaders get more business professionals involved in pushing academic rigor and career preparation.
"I think the whole academic and behavior rigor are exactly what we need to be doing and making the education relevant," Loudermelt said. "I don't know what percentage of kids we have go to college and then they come back in a year. We need them to stick there."