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June 7, 2004
The Honorable Howard Manning, Jr.
Superior Court Judge
Wake County Courthouse
Post Office Box 351
Raleigh, North Carolina 27602-0351
Fax 919.715.0404


Dear Judge Manning:

In our May 10, 2004, letter we outlined several strategies for improving Hoke County schools. Those strategies are based on the Hoke County "Local Education Agency Assistance Program" (LEAAP) team's recommendations for addressing specific problems that it identified in Hoke County schools, and were cited in your letter to us, dated March 27, 2004. In the May 10 letter, we promised to provide you with a fuller response after the June 3, 2004, meeting of the State Board of Education.

Consistent with our commitment, we have enclosed detailed descriptions, including anticipated outcomes, procedures for implementation and projected costs, of the following strategies that we outlined in our May 10 letter:

  • Establish a recruitment annuity (bonus) for teachers at hard-to-staff schools (Attachment 1);
  • Secure administrative training (Attachment 2);
  • Establish a lateral entry coordinator for the district (Attachment 3);
  • Establish a Project Achieve director (Attachment 4);
  • Establish a professional development specialist for the district (Attachment 5);
  • Continue financial consultation with district level leadership (Attachment 6);
  • Work with district leadership to develop, from their district level plan, a concise, inspiring, and easily understood document identifying the vision, priorities and student performance targets for the district (Attachment 7); and
  • Assist through additional efforts (Attachment 8). These efforts will include providing Hoke County with resources, to the extent funded by the legislature, and guidance to implement high quality, well-designed Personal Education Plans (PEPs) for poor, low-achieving students (Attachment 8A).

The additional efforts will also include a proposed new policy requiring that any child not performing at grade level be taught by a high-performing teacher with a clear license (Attachment 8B).

Taken as a whole, these strategies constitute a model that can be used to assure student proficiency in Hoke County, and similar school districts. If implemented in these districts, we believe that the strategies have the potential to achieve several specific objectives. Those objectives include reducing teacher turnover, improving the content knowledge and teaching skills of regular and lateral entry teachers, improving the instructional leadership skills of principals, increasing community support, and most importantly, improving student achievement.

Although we are seeking and will spend new resources to implement these strategies, we are disappointed and frustrated at Hoke County's continued objections to our efforts to develop and implement reforms in its school system. In conversations with Deputy State Superintendent Janice Davis, Hoke County Superintendent Strickland expressed support for the recommendations described in our May 10th letter and included in your letter of March 27. Nevertheless, in his May 26, 2004 letter, Superintendent Strickland criticizes us for not advocating full funding of the low-wealth supplemental formula as the preferred means for significantly improving education in Hoke County schools, even though the low-wealth funding formula does not specifically target funds to LEAs with high proportions of low performing students. Overall, this year's State Boards expansion budget request included over $58 million for specific programs for our poorest and lowest performing students. In addition, the State Board has also requested that LEAs be allowed keep over $44 million in funds appropriated to them rather than returning a portion to the State through the discretionary reduction enacted by the General Assembly two years ago.

We support continued funding for school districts eligible for low-wealth funding, but we believe the State Board of Education's request to the General Assembly for over $58 million specifically targeted to special needs students, and to poor and low-performing students is the most appropriate, near-term investment for promoting academic progress among the State's most vulnerable learners. With these funds, we would enhance programs for special needs learners; as you know, these students are already provided with very specific Individualized Education Plans (IEPs).

One of our most significant strategies will be providing LEAs with resources and guidance to implement high quality, well-designed Personal Education Plans (PEPs) for those students who are not identified as special needs learners and who have not yet achieved grade-level proficiency. These plans are consistent with the provisions of the State Board of Education's Student Accountability Standards, a vital part of the ABCs accountability program, for which you have expressed support. However, there is considerable variability in the quality of these plans and the effectiveness with which they are implemented. High quality PEPs offer significant promise for assuring student proficiency, and meeting the exacting standards of the federal government's No Child Left Behind legislation. The types of support we intend to provide for these students are noted in the attachment. Our expansion request to the General Assembly includes over $22 million for this purpose. This amount represents 10% of the total $220 million that would be needed to fully fund this new allotment category. Priority for funding would first be given to LEAs on the basis of student performance, poverty and teacher turnover.

Yet another of the important additional efforts will be the development of a policy requiring that a child who is not yet at grade level proficiency be taught by a high-performing teacher with a clear license. Equipped with the resources of recruitment/retention bonuses, and the resources associated with the other strategies described herein, it should be within the grasp of an LEA to assure that the most vulnerable students in our state have access to highly capable teachers.

While we were drafting the enclosed descriptions, we received your May 28, 2004, letter. In that letter, you emphasized that there are many children in other low wealth counties who have the same "pressing educational needs" as the students in Hoke County schools. While this litigation has focused on Hoke County, we are nevertheless very mindful of the educational needs of all North Carolina students. With those needs in mind, we are continually striving to improve the educational opportunities available in all North Carolina schools. It was the desire to improve educational opportunities across the State that led us to develop the "Local Education Agency Assistance Program" (LEAAP).

LEAAP teams are currently assisting school boards and superintendents in Weldon City, Edgecombe County, Bertie County, Hertford County and Northampton County to develop action plans for improving their schools. The objective of each LEAAP team is to identify particular areas for improvement in each of those LEAs. For example, the Hoke County LEAAP team identified historically high teacher turnover as a significant obstacle to improved student performance. In light of that fact, we have developed strategies designed not only to reduce teacher turnover, e.g., retention bonuses for teachers in hard to staff schools, but also strategies to improve the effectiveness of the new teachers Hoke County must hire to fill its vacancies, e.g., Project Achieve Director, lateral entry coordinator, etc. While we believe that those strategies will be effective in Hoke County and LEAs that have similar problems, the LEAAP program can also work in other LEAs that may need a different combination of strategies and assistance to improve the educational opportunities available to and academic performance of their students. A sample scenario for expanding the Hoke LEAAP model described in this letter is included in the attachments (Attachment 9).

The model of assistance that we propose through the strategies described in the attachments will significantly expand the level of support available through LEAAP. In the course of developing our assistance strategies, we have been mindful of your warning that "unlimited, unrestricted funds are out of the question." We believe that our requests to the General Assembly, while significant, are consistent with this reminder. The need to tailor our assistance to the particular needs of each LEA necessarily means that we cannot estimate the cost of all the potential assistance programs by simply extrapolating from the costs of the Hoke County program. Nevertheless, we believe that with the proposed new funding and guidance in the use of these resources, LEAs that have a large proportion of impoverished, low performing students can immediately implement effective programs similar to what we have developed for Hoke County.

Although your May 28, 2004 letter states that you were "withholding comment on the sufficiency of the State Board's proposals," based on your March 27, 2004, letter, we are operating on the understanding that you agreed that it is appropriate for us to begin implementing the actions proposed in the LEAAP team report in Hoke County. Therefore, we intend to continue our efforts to secure the additional resources for the teacher retention bonuses and for the disadvantaged student supplemental funding for Personal Education Plans, and irrespective of additional funding, intend to begin implementing the other proposed strategies so that they will be in place in Hoke County by the start of the new school year. If the State Board of Education's budget requests are funded, we will be able to enact similar strategies in LEAs with challenges similar to those in Hoke County.

In sum, we have described a number of strategies, including attracting teachers to hard to staff schools and awarding bonuses for long-term commitment to those schools; strengthening the content and professional knowledge and skills of teachers; assisting districts in the full utilization of existing resources; providing students who are not proficient with well developed Personal Education Plans and the resources to support the strategies outlined in these plans; and assuring access by such students to highly capable teachers. We truly expect that these strategies will assure that Hoke County and similar districts help every student to learn, to achieve and to fulfill his or her potential. We will keep you informed of our progress toward those goals in our next regular report.


Howard N. Lee Michael E. Ward

cc: Robert Spearman
Ann Majestic

About the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction:
The North Carolina Department of Public Instruction provides leadership to 115 local public school districts and 126 charter schools serving over 1.5 million students in kindergarten through high school graduation. The agency is responsible for all aspects of the state's public school system and works under the direction of the North Carolina State Board of Education.

For more information:
NCDPI Communication and Information Division, 919.807.3450.