Albemarle principals report challenges, opportunities

Published 10:37 am Wednesday, February 7, 2024

Principals of the four public schools within the city limits of Albemarle delivered updates on the 2023-24 school year to City Council at the Feb. 5 meeting. Reports presented from each school focused on student achievements and activities as well as challenges and opportunities each institution is experiencing.

Administrators included Beverly Pennington and Brian Bradshaw (Albemarle High School), Dr. Eric Johnson (Central Elementary) and Judith Taylor (East Albemarle Elementary).

Pennington introduced the principals in attendance, and explained that the leaders felt it important to keep the council informed of current operations within the schools.

“If you’re not telling your own story, someone else will, so we want to tell you about our schools,” she said. “What you have here are four committed administrators who want to see change in our city schools,” adding that the four have been meeting regularly during the school year to discuss needs with district leaders.

Reports for each school were given, with a number of common threads identified. (Taylor presented information for Albemarle Middle, since principal Anne McLendon was unable to attend.)
All four schools identified recruitment and retention of staff as a major concern, with around one-third of the teachers at AHS, Central and East Albemarle classified as “beginning” teachers.

The approaching end of ESSER (Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief) funding, which has helped fund teacher salaries since the COVID-19 pandemic, is expected to further hinder teacher retention.

“Many times we have to rebuild (staff) due to teachers leaving for better pay in other districts,” said Taylor, in giving the report for AMS.

“We can’t get certified teachers to apply,” stated Johnson, who reported that Central has four vacant positions, and two EC positions with instructional assistants acting in teaching roles.

Likewise, Bradshaw reported that AHS had begun the year with one-third of its teaching positions vacant, but has since cut that margin by over half.

“At the semester, we were able to hire several new teachers, and to get them in there…it was a big change from the fall semester, when we were short handed,” Bradshaw recalled.

In addition, a need for more community and parental support was expressed by AHS, AMS and Central, with Bradshaw and Taylor acknowledging some support provided by local churches, but that additional assistance is always needed.

“We’ve got some churches (helping support us), but we’d like to get some more help,” said Bradshaw.

Taylor added that three local churches are providing support to AMS as well.

Each principal also emphasized that there are many positives that the council should know.

Bradshaw noted that 104 (roughly 25%) of AHS students currently are scoring all A’s and B’s, with results being a significant number of students inducted into the school’s National Honor Society chapter. The band program, which had been discontinued for a time, has been revived, and AHS athletic teams in football (conference champions), wrestling (advanced to third round of state playoffs) and girls’ basketball (16-2 record) have represented the school well.

At AMS, Taylor reported that 87% of students there are passing all of their classes, up from 52% one year ago. In addition, the school has implemented PBIS (Positive Behavior Intervention and Support) to encourage students to “make good choices.”

Taylor also noted that East Albemarle Elementary has made significant strides academically, after having received an “F” on the NCDPI annual school report card for the 2022-23 school year.

“That was deflating,” Taylor said, “but this year, we have turned things around. All students have a certified homeroom teacher and a media specialist to instill early literacy skills.”

Mid-year results indicate strong improvement in the early grades.

“We set a goal not just to show growth, but to show 10 percentage points of growth at every point during the year,” she said, adding that kindergarten, first and second grade met or exceeded the goal in reading, and that first, second and third graders met or exceeded that goal in math.

“There are differences in the perception and reality of what’s going on in Albemarle schools,” said Johnson, who praised the efforts of the teachers and students at Central Elementary and said the NCDPI school report cards “do not adequately measure the amount of effort our adults are putting in.”

“We’ve got a lot of amazing people who dedicate their time and their lives to working with our students who are the future of this community,” he said. “The bad part about the school report cards is that they don’t take into account a lot of the good things that happen.”

“I would put our kids up against any in this district,” Johnson continued. “I truly believe that if push came to shove, our kids would do whatever needed to be done more effectively and efficiently, but we’ve got to have the right people working with them.”

Toby Thorpe is a freelance writer for The Stanly News & Press.