Wednesday, July 27, 2011
Friday, July 22, 2011
BY PAUL A. SPECHT, staff writer - firstname.lastname@example.org or 829-4826
KNIGHTDALE - They're advocates, not activists. They're set on improving local schools, but they're not boosters. They focus most on student achievement and keeping students in Knightdale, but they're nonpartisan.
They don't carry signs, hold public rallies or holler at politicians.
Yet this grassroots group - Knightdale 100 - has changed the landscape of education in Knightdale all-the-while keeping a low profile as their movement gains traction.
"What makes the group tick is that we function using a variety of talents among our members. No one person is the leader. No one person is in control," said Catherine Dameron, mother of two in Knightdale schools, who is often seen as the group's voice in the community.
Knightdale 100 rose to relevance in 2009 when a group of concerned parents and community leaders organized meetings to address lagging academic performance in their town schools and a perceived lack of support from school system authorities.
Since then, the group has collaborated with parents, educators and politicians to bring attention to what was once an underperforming corner of the county.
To promote awareness, Knightdale 100 spends little money (and it doesn't ask for donations). Members merely update the group's blog - knightdale100.blogspot.com - and hold forums and presentations nearly every month at Town Hall to inform the community of new ways to improve Knightdale schools.
"We don't solve problems, we just shine a spotlight," said Shannon Hardy, a parent and local educator who facilitates many of the forums.
Hardy and Dameron say the group's main goal is making Knightdale schools the first choice for local parents.
"We're focused on promoting student performance and effective teachers," Dameron says.
Directly or indirectly, this organized, informed, involved base of parents has elevated Knightdale schools.
Two years ago, Knightdale schools were the lowest performing in Wake County.
During the 2008-2009 school year, Knightdale students scored in the 66th percentile on End-of-Course tests - well below the Wake average of 80 percent, and the North Carolina average of about 72 percent.
Though still below the county and state averages, students in Knightdale schools in the 2009-2010 school year scored in the 73rd percentile.
Also during that time, the SAT participation rate grew 10 percent from about 51 percent of all students taking the exam in 2009 to about 61 in 2010.
And in middle schools, enrollment in algebra courses grew from less than 50 percent of Knightdale students taking algebra in 2009 to over 70 percent in 2010. Knightdale 100 last year held a forum on the importance of middle schoolers getting a head start in algebra before high school.
Collaborate and conquer
Tim Simmons, vice president of communications at Wake Education Partnership, says Knightdale 100 is unlike any advocacy group he's worked with in a county so saturated with varying educational philosophies.
"I don't know of any other group in Wake whose sole purpose is to improve academics of a certain set of schools," he said. "They walk a fine line between making it clear to the schools that they won't take excuses for failure, and then not angering folks."
Knightdale 100 is successful because it's found ways to engage the community through noncontroversial means, Simmons said.
Local schools, group members say, have yet to peak but are surging.
Members have heard good reports from teachers on student achievement. And in May, more than 100 people, including Wake Superintendent of Schools Tony Tata, attended the group's latest monthly forum on a program created by Raleigh-based SAS Institute to better evaluate student learning and teacher effectiveness. It was Knightdale 100's best attended event.
Leaders of Knightdale 100 say they're hoping to brush up on their knowledge of STEM schools.
STEM is short for Science, Technology, Engineering and Math. All STEM schools are part of a network that provides advanced technology and new learning techniques to help teachers promote a focus those areas. Support for STEM schools includes technology facilitators or foreign language instructors, and 30 iPad tablet computers for each grade level - all at no cost to the school.
The group is currently coordinating a meeting sometime between July 15 and 25 to discuss STEM at each school. It will include Karl Rectanus, of NC STEM Collaborative, Wake administrator Athena Kellogg, and the schools' principals.
Knightdale 100 had lobbied Wake school board member Chris Malone, who represents Knightdale, for STEM schools in Knightdale.
Malone says eastern Wake schools couldn't ask for a more engaged group of parents. He says he checks in with group members routinely to find out what resources Knightdale schools need.
"They are a thoughtful, proactive group," Malone said. "East Wake at-large for the longest time received no help. ... They are the living example of the phrase: 'Where there's involvement, there's action.'"
Knightdale 100's next meeting is 7 p.m. August 25 at Town Hall, 950 Steeple Square Court in Knightdale. knightdale100.blogspot.com
Monday, July 18, 2011
Knightdale High rising senior Ashley Rogers won the science fair at the State FFA Convention with her research project on vitamin C levels. By winning, she earned the right to represent North Carolina at the National FFA Convention in October. The Knightdale High science department teachers helped Ashley on her project and are proud of her success.