SOL success hailed by school board

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Accreditation testing, alternative education planning, and looking ahead for the next decade of enrollment projections were the main topics on the agenda for the Suffolk School Board during their annual retreat Tuesday at King's Fork High School.

On the ever-changing Standards of Learning front, 2004-05 marked the first school year in which an entire portion of Suffolk schools reached full accreditation.

All three high schools hit the mark for SOL results, with Lakeland showing overall improvement in all areas of testing.

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Nansemond River improved in three of four subjects.

Three of four middle schools earned full accreditation, with John F. Kennedy Middle School falling three percent short in the social studies category.

Citywide, the four middle schools combined showed improved test scores over the plast two school years.

All six categories of middle school testing have higher scores since 2003, with English and social studies showing the largest improvements.

The average English 8 score has gone from 60 to 77, and the social studies average from 62 to 78.

Social studies, despite progress, is still the shortfall of four of the 12 Suffolk elementary schools.

"The problem was fifth grade history," said Suffolk Schools Superintendent Dr. Milton R. Liverman, "and we've already taken steps to address that."

Fifth grade history testing scores were the common theme keeping Elephant's Fork, Mack Benn, Mount Zion, and Robertson elementary schools from full accreditation.

"It is different now, because instead of all of social studies and math," said Liverman, "or math and English, now it's just fifth grade history."

"You've proven you can do it," He added.

"I honestly believe we have in place what it takes to become fully accredited," said Board member William Whitley.

Alternative education

On the new alternative education programs being implemented this coming school year, most of the allotted time was spent on the Middle School Academic Alternative Program and a community service addition as a replacement for some disciplinary instances otherwise met with suspensions.

Previously housed at Turlington Woods, each middle school will individually have its own Middle School Academic Alternative Program.

The centerpiece of this change will come in the form of an online program, NovaNet.

NovaNet will provide individual, prescriptive course work for students; supplementing regular instruction.

With the new program, middle school students will be able to take one remedial course in summer school, and a second remedial course in the first semester of the next school year, with the anticipation that fewer students will fall behind a grade level.

Board member William Hill said, "The hope of this is that children will eventually work their way back into the mainstream."

High school alternative education is being restructured as well.

Turlington Woods will be used now as the site of the Daytime Alternative Education program; and the night program is being consolidated at King's Fork.

NovaNet is going to be a part of the high school level too in combination with another Internet resource already in place, Blackboard.

Blackboard, Liverman said, "has been used in alternative education, but I was talking to principles and they were asking about if we could use this technology for honors and AP courses the schools can't offer themselves."

Facility needs

Suffolk's growing population means growing enrollment and the School Board discussed possible new schools to try and both solve current problems and get one step ahead of projections.

On the elementary school level, enrollment is projected to rise from 6,522 currently, to more than 7,800 by 2014.

Today, there are 6,187 permanent classroom seats and 63 modular units in use.

The new school in northeast Suffolk will add space for 800 new students.

A proposal for a new elementary school on or near Route 10 is another idea being considered.

The board also discussed the need, despite no projections of significant population growth in southern Suffolk, for possible options concerning Southwestern and Robertson.

Board member John Riddick, as well as Whitley and Hill, all expressed concern about the state of the buildings and facilities at the two schools.

There was general agreement that even though this area of Suffolk does not warrant new construction based on population estimates, planning for possible options should still go forward.

Replacing Southwestern and Robertson with one large facility is one option; and building relatively smaller schools in both Holland and Whaleyville, is the second option presently on the table.

"There should be some very interesting discussion on this topic in the future," said Liverman, "and very lively at city council when it comes up."