Wake County Schools Superintendent Tony Tata came out with a three-point message at his State of the Schools address on Thursday.
As noted in today's article by Thomas Goldsmith, Tata talked enthusiastically about the gains that Wake made on state exams. But he warned that the results could drop as Wake and the rest of the state switches to the new common core curriculum and tests this school year.
The third prong of Tata's speech was the need "to make a compelling case" for the passage of a school bond issue in 2013.
Academically, Tata said "we had a pretty good year." He cited increases in test scores, both among schools overall and among subgroups such as economically disadvantaged students.
Tata singled out changes such as Central Office providing money to Title I schools that was previously being held in reserve for emergencies and getting Title I schools to shift from targeted to schoolwide assistance programs.
Tata also pointed too the gains at the Renaissance Schools being greater than the non-Renaissance schools, noting the use of the "pay for performance model."
"Some people say 'Well Tata, that's not sustainable,'" Tata said of the Renaissance School gains. "Well, I would rather try to figure out how to sustain it going forward than to sustain what was happening before."
Tata also pointed to the gains at Walnut Creek Elementary School, saying they will sustain the level of support provided to the school.
Tata acknowledged that the graduation rate is lower than it was six years ago and how now it's "painfully obvious that the state has caught up with us." But he also pointed to how the graduation rate went up two years ago after years of decline and only dropped slightly this year.
Moving forward to common core, Tata stressed how much more rigorous the new curriculum is compared to what was in place previously. As a hint of what could happen with the new tests, he pointed back to how Wake's test scores dropped after the state renormed the exams in the mid-2000s.
"We could be in for a little sticker shock on our reading scores at fourth-grade and, if you extrapolate it outward, across the system unless we double down and really make sure we do the things like we're doing such as gap analysis," Tata said.
Tata said they're preparing for the rigor of common core with things such as increased spending on staff development and getting more students to take Algebra I in middle school through the use of EVAAS.
After talking about various accomplishments such as increasing the use of inclusion for special-education students, reductions in student suspensions, expansion of new programs such as the single-sex leadership academies, Tata turned to the issue of challenges.
"There's a lot of great stuff but we have some challenges," Tata said.
Those challenges include improving academic growth at middle schools, raising the graduation rate, implementing the common core, dealing with the budget, restoring full accreditation from AdvancED and the "huge" challenge of capacity.
"We're going to have to go to the community, to all of you, and say, 'Look we need space,'" Tata said.
Tata said they're looking everywhere for school space, such as the locations being leased for the single-gender schools.
On the new student assignment plan, Tata said on Sept. 18 staff will "deliver an updated version on the assignment plan that will be an improvement of what we have today."
Tata talked about the growth that could bring 20,000 more students by 2016.
"As we look at that growth, we've got to make a compelling case for construction to the entire county," Tata said. "And how do you make that case? You talk about where you are doing well, that you're a high-performing organization, you're producing results.
And we need this growth and this growth begets more business and it's a synchronization that happens between business and a great community to live in and great schools. And you can't have one without the other. And so as we move forward, we need everyone to be involved and to speak on behalf of the school system."
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