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Nov. 12, 2013 @ 09:52 PM

EARL KING / Dispatch Staff

Ronald Gregory, superintendent of the Vance County Schools, addresses a group gathered for an education summit Tuesday morning.

EARL KING / Dispatch Staff

Eric Sanchez, a co-founder and school leader at Henderson Collegiate, shares information on his school’s success in the past year.

Losing power during a summit of education and community leaders wasn’t a deterrent. Similarly, those in attendance are committed to educating the children of Vance County regardless of adversities and challenges.

The group convened Monday in the Glass House at Satterwhite Point on Kerr Lake. Education has been a hot topic statewide this calendar year, from protests on Mondays in Raleigh to a release of graduation rates in late summer that showed Vance County ranking No. 115 of 115 school systems in the state.

In organizing the event, Tommy Hester and Archie Taylor Jr. brought stakeholders together in an effort to move the county forward, and not just with public schools.

Presentations were given and by the end, Taylor identified five major barriers to education in Vance County: lack of transportation, poverty, low teacher supplements, discipline in schools and teacher attrition.

“It takes far more resources to educate kids of poverty,” Gregory said. “But make no mistake about it, kids of poverty can learn just as all other kids can learn and it’s up to us to make sure we provide those opportunities for them because if we don’t, we failed our community, failed our schools and failed our people.”

In his presentation, Gregory laid out local demographic information to demonstrate the socioeconomic issues Vance County students must confront.

In Vance County, 43.6 percent of children younger than 18 are living in poverty.

In Vance County Schools, 95 percent of students receive free and reduced lunch and 15 percent of students have special needs.

Last year, 35 percent of Vance County received food stamps and 33 percent received Medicaid.

Despite the need for greater resources, Vance County ranks 95th in per pupil funding out of 100 counties.

While there are many obstacles, Gregory said students must be held to higher standards.

“The expectations have been very, very low in our community for a long, long time,” he said.

Eric Sanchez, a co-founder and school leader of Henderson Collegiate, said his school believes in setting high expectations for students academically and developmentally.

Sanchez said 51 percent of the teacher’s job at Henderson Collegiate is to develop character and 49 percent is devoted to academics.

“The first and foremost mission of our school is to make our students better people,” he said.

Henderson Collegiate is a charter school in Vance County with 400 students, grades 4-7, and 32 staff members.

Educators also stressed the importance of teaching real world skills that students can apply directly to jobs after graduation.

Medical and law enforcement academies in Vance County high schools are part of the effort to equip students with relevant training.

Willa Clark, career and technical education director, said the schools need to develop pathways for students and provide direction as early as possible.

The Early High School Science Technology Engineering and Math program opened in fall 2012 with 100 sixth-grade students at Northern Vance High School.

The early high school program is part of a trend in Vance County Schools to teach STEM and prepare students for science and technology jobs.

Trixie Brooks, director of curriculum, said there are 400,000 STEM jobs in the state and there will be 70,000 new STEM jobs in the next decade.

“We need to design and deliver purposeful and meaningful instruction that are relevant to students outside the classroom,” Brooks said.

Educators also addressed the need to recruit and retain quality teachers.

Gregory said there is consistently 20-25 percent teacher attrition per year, and he noted that Vance County Schools constantly loses teachers to other nearby counties that can offer higher supplements.

George Fowler, chairman of the Vance County Education Fund, said his organization needs more funding in order to provide teachers with more incentives to stay.

The foundation supports teachers through mini-grants and annual monetary awards for teacher, principal and vice principal of the year.

Fowler said the foundation’s expenses have exceeded its revenues for the past few years. At this time, the revenues and expenses are about equal, he said.

In February 2012, the foundation’s board of directors voted to cut expenses.

Fowler said they were developing a loan forgiveness program for teachers who incurred debt, but the program has not yet been implemented due to rising expenses.

“We intended for the cuts to be temporary and we want to expand on what we can do for Vance County Schools,” he said.

John Barnes, president of the Henderson-Vance Chamber of Commerce, agreed to take on the charge of organizing the next summit, which he anticipates will take place in April.

He said he hopes to organize a subcommittee devoted to establishing plans for decreasing the barriers discussed Tuesday.

“Quite frankly, these issues may be easy to identify, but the real key is coming up with a strategy to correct these barriers,” he said.

Contact the writer at smansur@hendersondispatch.com.

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