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GCS Believes in the Power of the Dream
Believe in the Power of the Dream. That was the message at the 2015 State of Our Schools event at the Carolina Theatre Thursday. Guilford County Schools Superintendent Maurice “Mo” Green discussed the achievements, challenges and some exciting new prospects for the school district when he updated the community on the progress of the Strategic Plan 2016: Achieving Educational Excellence: Personalizing Learning. The Strategic Plan was introduced at the 2013 State of Our Schools event; it serves as the district’s blueprint, detailing goals and strategies to guide GCS through 2016.
Every year, GCS gets closer to reaching those goals. In 2014, the district reached a new all-time high of 88.5 percent of students graduating in four years. That’s higher than the state rate of 83.8 percent, and is the highest percentage of the five largest districts in North Carolina.
The event highlighted that not only are more students graduating, but more are leaving with college-level experience. In the Class of 2014, 35 percent of students passed at least one Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate exam or qualifying college-level course while still in high school. GCS students improved in most state measures, including grade and course assessments, the ACT and percentage of graduates passing challenging math courses.
“At GCS, we are invested in raising dreamers, who have strong minds and characters, who grow up with the vision of a world beyond simply themselves and who have the passion to be the change they want to see in the world.” said Rev. Amos Quick, vice-chair of the Guilford County Board of Education. “When our children realize their potential, our community benefits too.”
In the effort to personalize learning by connecting with students through their interests, GCS grew. A few of the district’s offerings include:
- More than 54 specialty programs for students including technology, performing arts, health sciences, advanced academics and aviation.
- 208 Career and Technical Education courses in 52 schools
- 30 Advanced Placement college-credit courses in high schools
- Four high schools with the prestigious International Baccalaureate degree program
- The state’s only AP Capstone Academy
- Nine early and middle colleges where students can earn college credit while still in high school
Academics and character education are the pillars of GCS’ strategic plan. Students work on service learning projects throughout the year that connect them to the community and improve everyone’s shared quality of life. The partnerships and hard work of GCS students, staff, faculty and the community help make GCS a national leader in character education. In 2014, the district and 14 schools received the Promising Practices Award showcasing innovative character education programs; three schools were named 2014 National Schools of Character; and four schools were named 2014 State Schools of Character.
Another focus of the Strategic Plan is closing the achievement gap. The State of Our Schools event highlighted several initiatives designed to do just that, including a partnership with historically black colleges and universities to attract more minority STEM academics to the teaching profession; the Male Advisory Group of young men from five pilot schools which meets each month to learn about topics they can use for life and give them additional role models who encourage them to believe in themselves; and the “Future Thinkers, Doers and Innovators Fund” provided by Dun & Bradstreet Credibility, which gives middle and high school students the opportunity to participate in national competitions and conferences.
Business and community partnerships, like the one with Dun & Bradstreet were highlighted throughout the event. The district has faced six years of budget cuts, making community partnerships even more important for student success. Other partnerships and volunteer efforts highlighted included:
- First Baptist Church in Greensboro’s partnership with Bessemer Elementary to host a two-week camp for incoming kindergartners who had not been in a pre-K program;
- Hundreds of volunteers donating time to read with students each week;
- WFMY’s Read to Succeed partnership, which brought the Good Morning Show to almost every elementary school to get students excited about reading;
- Alpha Kappa Sorority and Lincoln Financial Foundation, which provided new books for students at the Falkener Elementary summer literacy camp to take home and keep each week; and,
- Burroughs Wellcome, which provided a $150,000 grant to create robotics teams in every GCS high school.
GCS also received more than $3.3 million in cash and in-kind contributions to help fund summer reading camps, field trips, national competitions, robotics teams, aviation clubs, science camps and more.
Those partnerships and others will be key in helping Guilford County become the nation’s next “Say Yes” community. The superintendent invited Nathan Duggins, vice-chair of the Guilford Education Alliance, to discuss the opportunity which could help every student in the county access, afford and complete a college or post-secondary education. The nonprofit organization plans to add at least one Say Yes community to its program in 2015 – and to do so outside New York State and the Northeast. Say Yes has informed Guilford County that it is the leading candidate to be the nation’s next Say Yes community.
Other honors celebrated Thursday night included:
- 15 high schools on the Washington Post’s 2014 America’s Most Challenging High Schools list;
- Two high schools on the US News & World Report’s Best High Schools list;
- Four GCS schools named National Blue Ribbon Schools by the U.S. Department of Education since 2011;
- Seven GCS students from the Class of 2014 named National Merit Scholarship winners and 22 semi-finalists;
- Four GCS students named National Achievement Scholarship winners;
- 36 students selected for Governor’s School of North Carolina, the nation’s oldest statewide summer program for academically gifted students; and,
- The Class of 2014’s record $149.5 million in scholarship offers.
Superintendent Green looked ahead to potential challenges in the next year, including a new A through F school grading scale which will come out next month. The superintendent expressed the district’s stance that the grades do not reflect the quality of education GCS schools provide to students. Last year, the Board of Education passed a resolution calling for a repeal of the legislation.
He also addressed state budget cuts that total more than $47.6 million since 2008-09, and the failed ¼-cent sales tax referendum. The cuts included millions of dollars from central office, eliminating dozens of high school graduation coach and testing positions, reducing magnet transportation costs and increasing class sizes. The superintendent asked that, even though the referendum failed, the conversation about school funding continue.
The superintendent said the district is grateful to the 1,300 community agencies, faith organizations and business partners that work with the district to address student needs, but emphasized that isn’t enough to replace adequate public funding.