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Shining Rock surges, Haywood Schools slips again

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After a tumultuous year that saw all manner of controversy — from parental complaints to illegal meetings, transparency issues, secret building projects and dramatically lower enrollment — there’s finally some good news to report from Haywood County’s only public charter school. 

“At first glance, I am very pleased with the improvements from the 2018-19 school year,” said Head of School Joshua Morgan in a press release.

On Sept. 4, the N.C. State Board of Education released the state’s annual School Performance Grade report, showing a final score of 67 for Shining Rock Classical Academy. 

That’s a full 11 points over last year’s score of 56, which placed Shining Rock not only well below Haywood County Schools, but also below the state average. 

“Clearly the curriculum alignment that was undertaken schoolwide produced the results that we desired faster than expected,” Morgan continued. “I am especially proud that students met growth in all three measurable categories of reading, math and overall.”

The 11-point gain reverses a trend that’s existed at the school since its inception in 2015. That year, right out of the gate, Shining Rock scored a 70, placing it above Haywood County Schools’ score of 66.8. 

From there, though, scores slipped in each of the next two years — first to 65, and then to 56 last year. Over that same period, Haywood’s score rose to 68, and then slipped slightly to 67.1.

“The foundation for continued growth and success has been laid thanks to the focused determination of our talented and dedicated staff,” Morgan said. “This serves as an affirmation that positive outcomes can be achieved through allowing teachers to be creative in their instruction, exposing children to learning opportunities beyond the classroom, and a passionate community committed to student success.”

That score is likely to boost Shining Rock’s charter renewal application, a two-year process that is currently ongoing; performance scores are among the factors considered when the State Board of Education decides to renew charters for a period of either 10 years, seven years or three years, or not renew them at all. 

In anticipation of the most current round of scoring, Morgan told The Smoky Mountain News two weeks ago that he had confidence in what his teachers had done over the previous year, and expected improvement. 

While Shining Rock’s success is to be celebrated, they’re not as happy on the other side of town, where Haywood County Schools slipped for the second year straight and now trails the public charter school in performance for the first time since 2015. 

This year’s score of 64.5 was certainly a disappointment in the district, which had been in the top 10 percent of North Carolina’s 115 school districts during the 2015-16 and 2016-17 school years. 

 

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Although Haywood County Schools remains in the top 20 percent of all state school districts, only four of the district’s 14 scored schools posted increases from the 2017-18 school year — Clyde and Jonathan Valley elementary schools, and Bethel and Waynesville middle schools. 

“What’s the difference between top 10 percent and top 20 percent? Well, it feels different,” said HCS Superintendent Dr. Bill Nolte. “It’s harder to stay at a very high level, and we accept that challenge. We make no excuses.”

Haywood Early College for the second straight year maxed out at 95; scores are not compiled above that number, so it’s hard to tell if there was growth there, but regardless, it remains the district’s highest-scoring. 

The other nine schools, though, all posted declines — some drastic. North Canton Elementary dropped by 4.2 points, Hazelwood and Meadowbrook elementary schools each dropped by more than 6 points, and both Haywood high schools, Pisgah and Tuscola, saw large slides of 8.5 and 12.1 points, respectively. 

Other declines were relatively minor, but contribute to the district’s overall decline. Bethel Elementary dropped by a point, Canton Middle by 1.7 points, Junaluska Elementary by 2.8 points and Riverbend Elementary by 3 points. 

It’s not all bad news though, according to Assistant Superintendent Jill Barker. 

“The overall composite is how we’re ranked across the state, but within that there are so many positive pieces that we’ve worked on, like the ACT,” said Barker. “We’re seventh in the state out of 115 districts. I’m very proud of that. I mean, seventh in the state? That is going to get you into college.”

Another bright spot, according to Barker, is the results of the work keys test.

“When you look at the ACT plus the work keys test, which is for career placement, we’re ninth out of the out of 115 districts,” she said. 

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