Report urges changes in Hoke County schools

Raeford – The Hoke County schools should spend more money on teacher recruitment and less on teacher assistants and clerical staff, according to a report issued last week by a team from the N.C. Department of Public Instruction.

The report says the system’s teacher turnover and teacher absenteeism rates are too high. The central office should be reorganized to devote more staff to human resources.

Superintendent Allen Strickland said Thursday that he has consulted with lawyers about a response to the report. Strickland said some of the information is incorrect and other findings are aimed at helping the state win a low-wealth lawsuit, which is pending.

"We’re going to take the things that are helpful in the report and we’re going to try to work on those,” he said. "But the things that are obviously not correct, we’re going to address."

5-month study

The report is the result of a five-month study of the Hoke schools by the Department of Public Instruction. The state lists about 30 recommendations in the areas of financial management, technology, facilities management, human resources, leadership and student accountability.

The State Board of Education voted in August to send the assistance team to Hoke County. The decision came a week after Judge Howard Manning Jr. ordered the state to formulate a plan for providing Hoke’s children a sound, basic education.

The order State Board of Education NC was part of the low-wealth lawsuit that is in litigation. The lawsuit is also known as the Leandro suit after the Hoke County family that helped file it. The lawsuit was filed in 1994 by five poor counties, including Hoke, Cumberland and Robeson. It says students in poor counties do not receive the same educational opportunities as students in wealthier counties.

Bradford Sneeden, the deputy state superintendent who is overseeing the assistance team, said the goal is to form an assistance program that can be used to help low-performing school systems. He said the Hoke schools are not low-performing, but Manning’s order specifically named the school system.

"Quite frankly, I was impressed with a lot of what was planned and what was going on,” Sneeden said. "Hoke County’s school system is not the same system it was three, four, five years ago."

Sneeden said a smaller team of five to seven people will be selected to implement some of the team’s recommendations. A final report is due to Manning in June.

The report allows that Hoke county students have improved on accountability tests. The system also has a strategic plan in place and offers many opportunities for staff development.

But the report also says the strategic plan is not communicated well enough to key personnel. The team recommended setting up a plan that better targets certain groups, such as low-achieving students and American Indian boys.

"A lot of the things they talk about in the report are superficial things that don’t really get at the root of the case,” Strickland said. "And that is providing every child with a sound, basic education."

He pointed out that the report says the schools pay a 4 percent teacher supplement out of federal funds. The report also says the supplements are not permanent payments. But the supplements are taken from local money, and they are paid every year, he said.

Strickland said he also disagrees with the state’s recommendations that the system move its best teachers to its lowest-performing schools.

"Every school deserves high-quality teachers,” he said. "Why not just provide high-quality teachers for every school, and why doesn’t the state come up with the funds to help us do that?"

Sneeden said the state board would not have chosen to assess Hoke County, but it has no choice because of Manning’s order. He said the continuing court case made the assessment sensitive. Officials with Hoke County and with the state were careful about what they said, lest it should be entered as evidence in the case, he said.

"We’ve tried our best to say that we weren’t here to win a court case,” he said. "We’re here to help Hoke County if we can help them. We’re also here to look at the bigger picture of helping other school systems."

Strickland said the team’s findings would be common in any system.

"There are a lot of things we already knew, and we don’t need someone from Raleigh to come down and tell us,” he said. "And frankly, there’s a lot of things we’re already working on."

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