NEWTON – It’s time to take some “calculated risks” to give a different product to students, Catawba County Schools Superintendent Matt Stover told the Hickory Daily Record before heading into the winter break.
While there are plenty of highlights from 2017 for the school district, it’s the future for Catawba County Schools (CCS) the superintendent is excited to talk about now, and the focus is connecting the classroom to the world after high school graduation.
To get a jumpstart on this, the district is beginning to train all the teachers in grades K-8 to use a project-based learning (PBL) model. Stover said the reason for this is to give students the opportunity to see how their studies can lead to “real-life pathways.”
“The best part of that is it ties right into K-64,” the superintendent said. “Everything we’re doing, grades K-12 is literally feeding into K-64, which is our CVCC partnerships, our LRU partnerships.”
Stover said the district already has pockets of PBL learning in certain schools with STEM/STEAM (science, technology, engineering, (art) math) labs at Balls Creek and Sherrills Ford Elementary. Catawba County Schools is looking forward to expand this throughout the system.
At the middle school level next year, CCS is looking to launch STEM academies at Jacobs Fork, Mill Creek and River Bend.
Again the focus is tying curriculum right into real life.
“We’ve done public education the same way for a long time and if you continue to do the same thing, the same way you’re going to get the same results,” Stover said. “We want to move the needle dramatically in a positive direction.”
Another project the district is looking forward to launch is the dual-language (Spanish/English) emersion programs for elementary schools. It will start next school year at St. Stephens and Sherrills Ford Elementary schools.
Last year, the district piloted a new district-wide math program for grades K-8 as well, the enVision math program by Pearson. It was already in the middle schools and then last year St. Stephens Elementary introduced the program for grades K-6.
The district pulled all of its textbook dollars together to purchase this common curriculum for the district. Before, this money would be given out to each school.
Stover admits when his office took all those dollars back to purchase the new curriculum it was not popular with the rest of his administration, but he thinks overall it’s the right thing to do.
“When I got here and listened, it was ‘we don’t have anything in common. We don’t have a curriculum (district-wide),” the superintendent said.
Now with enVision, it’s a natural progression from kindergarten all the way up to eighth grade.
“It gives teachers a great tool to put math lessons in the order they should be put in, year after year,” Stover said.
There are even some high school math classes using enVision as well.
“After years of textbook dollars not being there and now the state is giving dollars but for technology and software for textbooks,” Stover said. “It’s just using your funds differently.”
With a unified system, students from kindergarten through eighth grade will be using the same math vocabulary, which Stover sees as a valuable foundation as they move on into high school.
The state report card and accountability scores showed there has been an impact from this program for all the schools in the district.
In grades 3-8, the overall math proficiency rate for CCS increased to 57.1 percent up from 56.8 percent in 2016. Grade-level proficiency in science, tested in fifth and eighth grades, reached 75.0 percent, an increase of 2.2 percentage points from the previous year, according to the accountability data for 2016-2017 (ncpublicschools.org).
Elementary and middle school performance grades are based on end-of-grade test scores in reading and math (grades 3-8), science (grades 5 and 8) and Math I.
It was a big year for CCS when it came to its own budget.
With some significant cuts, this year Catawba County Schools (CCS) was able to pay money back into what is essentially the system’s savings account. The district put in more than $890,000 to the fund balance.
For the 2015-16 school year, CCS used just over $1 million in the fund balance, leaving in the general fund a balance of $2,071,971. In 2017, the district added $894,033 to the fund balance. As of this past June, the new balance is $2,812,970, CCS Chief Finance Officer Karla Miller told The HDR in a previous article.
The last several years the cause of this has been state cuts to funding and a declining student enrollment. The student population in the district dropped from 17,800 to approximately 16,100 this year. The state and local government funds school districts receive are based on the number of students in each system.
“It’s really easy to think all the time that education is simply about teaching and learning and that is why we’re here,” Stover said. “Unfortunately, unless you have the dollars to put with it, you can be in a bad situation, but everybody here just rolled up their sleeves. There wasn’t a person in the district that wasn’t uncomfortable with some sort of cut.
“At this point, we’ve gotten through it and I’m just thankful for everybody because they really did a good job.”