12/11/15 Superintendent touts high-level programs

Superintendent touts high-level programs
By Isaac Groves, The Times-News 12/11/15  
Reprinted with permission.      

   ELON — Superintendent Bill Harrison is prioritizing teacher pay and special programs in local public schools going forward, but he said other items on the school district’s wish list could take longer.

   Harrison used a regular update on the school system’s five-year strategic plan to explain the importance of specialized programs — including two International Baccalaureate programs — to local leaders and members of the committee that drafted the Vision Plan for Public Education on which the plan is based.

   The idea is for each school to have something that stands out and draws students. Harrison said he chose Elon Elementary for the session to show committee members how the school incorporated its Global Passport schools program into everyday teaching.

   Harrison proposed starting and expanding a variety of programs over the next three years. In perhaps the most ambitious, Williams and Graham high schools would become International Baccalaureate schools in 2017 and 2018 respectively. Students from Western and Cummings high schools would be able to participate at Williams, and students from Western and Southern Alamance high schools would be able to participate at Graham.

   Originally created for the children of diplomats and other international professionals, IB is an advanced curriculum with foreign language, literature, science, math, computer science and art, and students can earn college credit.

   Harrison told the committee IB would be a magnet program because it’s too expensive to expand to all ABSS high schools.

   HIGHER PAY AND specialized programs are two of the six goals in the Alamance-Burlington School System’s ambitious five-year strategic plan. To prioritize funding, Harrison said, other goals, like making improvements to school buildings and facilities, will take longer.

   “But we’ll try to stay on track for teacher compensation and specialized programs,” Harrison said after the session. “Teacher compensation is No. 1 — by a long shot.”

   Elon Elementary also has the Splash Spanish immersion program, which will expand to Alexander Wilson and E.M. Yoder elementary schools in the 2016-17 school years. This is the sixth year of Splash at South Graham Elementary School, so it would expand to Graham Middle School next fall. Western and Turrentine middle schools already have Splash. Farther out, Haw River Elementary School also would get a Splash program in 2017.

   That would put an immersion program in every ABSS school zone except Southern Alamance High School’s, assuming Alexander Wilson Elementary is in the zone of a potential seventh high school between Southern and Eastern Alamance high schools.

   GRAHAM HIGH SCHOOL also will start a firefighter academy next fall, which will be the first phase of its municipal-services academy, Harrison said. The district is meeting with local police chiefs and the Alamance County Sheriff’s Office.

   The district’s Virtual Academy also will expand, Harrison said. Students meet for half days at the Career and Technical Education Center, and take online classes.

   There are also some early conversations about expanding the Alamance-Burlington Early College at Alamance Community College, Harrison said, since there were 80 qualified applicants for 40 slots this year.

   In the spring term, Newlin Elementary School will start a program called The Leader in Me based on “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People” by Stephen Covey, and Andrews Elementary School will start the program in the fall. North Graham Elementary School has an arts program called A+, which is not expanding to any new schools this year.

   Also in 2017, B. Everett Jordan Elementary School would start a STEAM — science, technology, engineering, art and math — program, Harrison said.

   One leader in creating the vision plan, Burlington lawyer Paul Koonts, said he thought the district was doing a good job of turning the broad strokes of the vision plan into specifics.

   “I think one of the challenges of doing this vision plan is those of us that care about education don’t know how to do it,” Koonts said. “Implementation was always going to be on the school system.”