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Kinston Free Press: Sen. Hagan praises progress at Rochelle Middle during visit to school

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

David Anderson

Rochelle Middle School's principal, Nicholas Harvey, described the greeting U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan received Monday as the kind of reception usually reserved for a rock star, a fitting analogy for a school that has incorporated the arts into its curriculum and seen improvement in its test scores in recent years.

"To have a U.S. senator on our campus is something our kids will never forget, and certainly something I as their principal will never forget. ... The kids treated her like a rock star," Harvey said.

Hagan, D-N.C., who sits on the U.S. Senate's Help, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee and is the sponsor of the School Turnaround and Rewards Act of 2011, spent about 90 minutes Monday touring Rochelle and visiting classrooms. She then spoke to members of the media gathered in the school's media center.

"She really wanted to have a chance to speak with some of the students," said Steve Mazingo, Lenoir County Schools' interim superintendent.

Hagan is visiting schools around the state.

Rochelle has undergone major changes in recent years; despite high growth in the percentage of students performing at or above grade level in reading in math in the past three years, the school has struggled to meet Adequate Yearly Progress testing goals set forth in the federal No Child Left Behind Act, passed in 2001.

After the 2009-10 school year - and five straight years of AYP disappointment - administrators opted to close the school and reopen with an arts-based curriculum under the national A-Plus Schools Program. Students who take part in a dance class, for example, must know how math, science and other core subjects play a part in the artistic work.

While Rochelle did not meet AYP standards for the 2010-11 school year, overall proficiency scores on state standardized tests are above 50 percent, which means the school is no longer categorized as low-performing.

It is still among the bottom 5 percent of schools in North Carolina, though, which qualifies it for assistance through President Barack Obama's Race to the Top program.

That assistance includes instructional coaches who work with students, and additional state and federal funds to help bring test scores up.

"This is an A-plus school," Hagan said.

The senator also praised Rochelle for its recovery from Hurricane Irene. Rochelle was the hardest-hit school in Lenoir County, and sustained about $300,000 in damage, including losing part of the school's roof and flooded hallways.

Rochelle lost six school days because of the damage, but Harvey said the facility is 99 percent repaired - workers were on campus as recently as this past weekend, making exterior repairs.

"The amazing work that the county did, that the school system did, I think speaks volumes of the dedication and commitment of this community," Hagan said.


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