Doing School Better

Innovation ECPS News: Winter 2022-2023

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Full of Hope

We have so much to celebrate in Edgecombe County Public Schools as 2022 comes to a close! While the education-related news this year across our state and nation has largely centered on the challenges our schools and students face, this newsletter highlights some of 2022's greatest successes: life-changing, joy-creating work happening in our schools every day.


As we look ahead to 2023 and beyond, we are committed to building on these efforts and expanding them to even more scholars in our community. This summer, the Edgecombe County Board of Commissioners voted YES to the county line "demerger." As a result, beginning in the 2024-2025 school year, ECPS will have the opportunity to serve nearly 1800 additional students living on the Edgecombe County side of Rocky Mount. Please check our website and social media posts in early 2023 to learn about ways you can join us to create phenomenal learning experiences for our newest ECPS scholars, too!


This holiday season, we hope you will be inspired as you read about the ways that ECPS students, families, and community champions are coming to together help all of our young people access deep learning and pursue their passions. As always, we are grateful for your support and your feedback, and we are full of hope as we prepare to greet the new year!

Futures Reimagined 2.0

ECPS and Transcend are partnering to continue reimagining learning in ECPS!

Transcend is a national organization that supports communities to "create and spread extraordinary, equitable learning environments." Way back in 2017, the Edgecombe community began collaborating with Transcend to develop Graduate Aims, draft a strategic plan, and design a new school model for the North side of the school system.

And now we're back at it again! In Fall 2022, we kicked off "Futures Reimagined 2.0" to:


  • Co-create equitable, innovative new high school models at Tarboro High School and SouthWest Edgecombe High school, and
  • Clarify the ECPS "Vision for Learning" so we can be sure all 14 schools are offering extraordinary learning experiences that lead to our Graduate Aims.


In pursuit of these goals, teams at each high school and leaders of every department in ECPS are engaging in a year-long design journey. They spent the fall learning from the experiences of local community stakeholders and innovators in the field of education; in fact, as you'll see pictured here, every ECPS Central Services team member shadowed a student for at least half of the day in November! In 2023, teams will be designing new approaches to learning and piloting them to see what works best.


School and district leaders are embracing this design journey wholeheartedly. As Dr. Robert Batts, ECPS Secondary Director, notes: "What has been most inspiring to me is watching the teachers become excited about what the educational experiences they offer students in their classrooms could look like. We are giving them the opportunity to dream without parameters about what's best for kids." Several team members shared how insightful it was to begin the journey by interviewing students, staff, and caregivers. Susan Hoke, ECPS Communications Coordinator, says, "The most inspiring part of the journey so far has been conducting interviews, which allowed me to deeply listen and gather the perspectives from members of our ECPS school community. Elevating the voices of stakeholders with diverse experiences and ways of thinking allows us to truly understand who we are as a community." After interviewing several teachers at Tarboro High School, Assistant Principal Caroline Joyce shared, "We have passionate, forthcoming and dedicated educators that want to deepen learning experiences and make school an irresistible place to come, and they acknowledge we need a change in trajectory."


Team members are already looking forward to the outcomes of this design journey. As Dr. Lauren Lampron, principal at SouthWest Edgecombe High School, notes, "I have enjoyed dreaming of creating a possible future for the students of SWEHS, and I am eager to see our school live out the values of passion, engagement, and curiosity." In the words of Transcend design partner Marthaa Torres, "ECPS will remain at the forefront of changes that need to happen in the American education system."

Profile: Brittany White, ECPS Teacher of the Year

Who is Brittany White? Edgecombe County native. Edgecombe Early College High School (EECHS) science teacher. Yearbook Club advisor. Yarn Club advisor. Science Olympiad coach. Robotics Team facilitator. Innovator. 2021-22 ECPS Teacher of the Year.


When asked why she became a science teacher, Ms. White stated, “It was an accident!” Ms. White's mom always wanted her to be a teacher, but she did not see herself in that role. She struggled with her science courses at East Carolina University until she met Dr. McCline, an oceanography and meteorology professor who sparked Ms. White's interest in science. Today, Dr. McCline and Ms. White continue working together to coach the EECHS robotics team.


Ms. White loves science, but her first love is her students. Her philosophy of education is rooted in equity; she believes that every child can and should learn, no matter the circumstances of their lives. Students just need to have an environment where they can be their authentic selves and take risks. As a result of her welcoming approach, Ms. White has built strong relationships with her students and remains connected with them beyond graduation. She has been a part of the Edgecombe County community for over 30 years and deeply values the people she lives and works among.


Years after they graduate from high school, students still remember Ms. White's class. She advocates to DO science. A typical week in her course includes note taking, investigating current topics through labs and group work, reading non-fiction science books and journals, and discussing social issues like bioethics. Her lessons focus on topics that matter to her students now and in the future. She often assigns activities where students will “mess up” so they will have to “fix it." Ms. White wants her students to understand the importance of taking risks and learning to fail forward, which also inspired her to create and lead the Project 212 STEM initiative at EECHS. Through Project 212, scholars engage in a wide variety of real-world STEM experiences and learn how they can make a difference in their community through STEM. Mrs. White is committed to inspiring Edgecombe's next generation of leaders so that our rural community will be a thriving one for years to come.


ECPS is incredibly fortunate to have such a talented and committed teacher leader in our community. Congratulations to Ms. White for being named the ECPS Teacher of the Year and a finalist for the regional Teacher of the Year!

Parent Educator Academies Get Rave Reviews

Do you remember what it was like to learn how to read? For many of us, it wasn't easy! In ECPS, a team of dedicated teachers is committed to our scholars learning to read with support from a very special group - their very own parents and caregivers.


The Parent Caregiver Educator Academy (PCEA) is focused on building scholars' literacy skills and fostering relationships between educators and parents/caregivers. The PCEA is led by a group of Multi-Classroom Leaders (MCLs), high-performing teacher-leaders with decades of experience in education.


The PCEA occurs approximately once per month in each ECPS elementary school. The frequency is needed to support learning at home and build strong relationships between teachers and parents/caregivers. Each month, parents/caregivers learn about a different foundational reading skill, such as phonemic awareness, fluency, and vocabulary. Each session is filled with hands-on learning, take-home activities to support learning at home, giveaways, and food! Gwen Peebles, MCL at Coker-Wimberly Elementary School, noted that parents have taken the lead in sharing what works best in their home with other parents. Additionally, students have the opportunity to take home personal library bins, books, and games.


The work is supported by TNTP, a national organization with the mission to, "end the injustice of educational inequality by providing excellent teachers to the students who need them most and by advancing policies and practices that ensure effective teaching in every classroom." MCLs meet monthly with Dr. Lutashia Dove, ECPS Director of Elementary Education, to plan PCEA sessions that meet the needs of their scholars and families.


Each school creates a safe space for parents and caregivers to learn to do what is best for their scholar. According to Andi Green, MCL at Martin Millennium Academy, “It is so important that we are there to do this together. This is a relationship. The teachers leave with just as much. Teachers learn how to listen and support our families.” Parents/caregivers are becoming data experts too! At Carver Elementary School, MCL Suzanne Sharpe shares the literacy profiles created for each student. Teachers then help parents/caregivers analyze the data from testing and report cards and choose what skills to work on at home.

The schools have seen great turnout from their communities, but they want to make sure all eligible families attend. As Mrs. Peebles stated, “This program is really worthwhile. It takes a lot of work, but it makes you feel good when you have the participation of the parents and the students.” PCEAs will continue throughout the rest of the 2022-2023 school year! Interested families are encouraged to check their school websites, social media, Class Dojo, or reach out to their teachers directly.

Starting School at Three!

When should students begin getting ready for Kindergarten? The earlier, the better! During the 2021-2022 school year, ECPS added over 30 three-year-olds to our Pre-K classes. In 2022-2023, we opened a classroom at Stocks Elementary School that serves only our littlest learners. Ms. Wheeler and Ms. Perez teach a classroom full of eager three-year-olds, pictured here. Every day, they work on literacy, numeracy, and key social-emotional skills like being kind, working together, and trying their best, even when something is hard. They love being in school with the "big kids!"


ECPS also continues to host an Early Learning Academy for three- and four-year-olds who are not in a full-day Pre-K program. Mrs. Thomas, our Early Learning Partner, facilitates Early Learning Academies for parents/caregivers and preschool children every Monday and Thursday from 9:00 - 11:00 AM at Stocks Elementary School. The children and their family members rotate together through learning centers, where they work together on academic and social-emotional skills. To learn more about Pre-K or Early Learning Academies in ECPS, please email Mrs. Thomas at dthomas@ecps.us.

ECPS + NCSU: Project DeSIRE

Students and families in Edgecombe County desire for our students to receive a world-class education and exposure to new opportunities for their future. Thanks to support from NC State, ECPS middle school students are receiving that exposure through Project DeSIRE - Developing STEM Identity through Research and Exploration. The goal of this project is to promote a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) identity among students in rural communities.


What exactly do scholars in Project DeSIRE do? Each student has a Project DeSIRE class added to their schedule. Students work on STEM projects through experiments and hands-on learning. Classwork examples include building solar-powered remote control cars, creating electric circuits using Arduino boards, and becoming experts in Google Sheets. Monthly Saturday field trips to NC State are an integral part of the program and a highlight for scholars. These trips provide students a chance to see what it is like to be on a college campus. Students eat in the dining halls, tour the campus, and interact with their undergraduate mentors in world-class classrooms and laboratories. There they continue working on STEM projects like creating water purification systems and tip sensors. Mr. Suitter, Digital Learning Coach at Phillips Middle School said, “My whole teaching career I felt that we prepared kids to go to college, but not to actually be in college. With this program they are on the campus, working with professors, eating in the dining room and getting all of this before they get there.”

Project DeSIRE is in its third year and is currently offered at Phillips Middle School and West Edgecombe Middle School. It is led by Digital Learning Coaches Edwin Suitter (Phillips) and Tim O'Shea (West), who receive professional development from program leads at NC State. ECPS scholars also benefit from the support of undergraduate students at NC State, who serve as remote and in-person mentors.


Funding for Project DeSIRE is provided by the National Science Foundation and several local companies: Cummins, Pfizer, LS Cable, and Hitachi Astemo (formerly Keihin). In addition to financial support, employees from these companies serve as guest speakers and mentors. As a result of the exposure to local businesses and careers, Project DeSIRE students truly are developing a STEM identity, says Mr. O'Shea. He notes, "There is a real access problem. Project DeSIRE provides authentic access and exposure to our students.”

From Micro School to Whole School: Successes + Lessons from the North Side

In the 2018-2019 school year, ECPS piloted a new school model as a micro school in collaboration with 30 8th and 9th graders from Phillips Middle School (PMS) and North Edgecombe High School (NEHS). Prior to 2018, these two schools, located on the North side of Edgecombe County, were perpetually on the state's watchlist of low-performing schools.

Now, four years later, both schools have been transformed into places where students can be the architects of their own lives, as their mission promises. PMS exceeded student growth projections in the 2021-22 school year, and NEHS has met or exceeded growth each year for the past four years that the state reported test scores. Both schools are currently offering learning experiences to all students that were born from those piloted in the micro school: Advisory/Banner, passion exploration blocks, and project-based learning. In addition, NEHS is partnering with Big Picture Learning to pilot a fully-embedded internship program during the spring of 2023.


Both PMS and NEHS employ Lead Designers, excellent teachers who provide instruction and develop and support the implementation of innovative student learning experiences. When asked about the successes they are most proud of, Lead Designers Sayre Man at NEHS and Kenya Raynor at PMS both discussed the impact of their new school model on student learning. Sayre shared that at NEHS, they have shifted a good chunk of their classes to be fully project-based, and are planning a similar shift in every course over the next few years. She said, "I'm really excited to see kids doing such cool things in their project-based classes, and making really impactful final products. I also feel very assured, based on what students have been able to produce, that they're learning at a high level and developing a range of real-world skills that they wouldn't have explored in more traditionally-designed courses."

Kenya is proud not only of the products PMS students produce, but also the life skills they are learning. She recalls that several years ago, "We did a really intense project with a lot of components, but students received the challenge, tried their best and made products that they could be proud of."


When asked about lessons learned, Kenya noted the importance of designing WITH and not FOR the community: "The beliefs and values of families, students and staff should be considered whenever you're planning something you want them to engage in. People have to believe you're operating in their best interests, and it's imperative that you ask them what they want to be true for themselves and their community when you can."


Sayre also shared a critical lesson for districts and schools embarking upon a journey to reimagine learning: "I think a major lesson for me is the degree to which a culture of risk-taking, feedback, and clarity is really essential to doing innovative work." These insights are at the forefront of our minds as we continue our "Futures Reimagined 2.0" journey to ensure that each and every ECPS scholar is prepared to design their own future, navigate change, and make the world a better place.

About Innovation ECPS

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Our mission at Innovation ECPS is to create the conditions for our students to become transformational leaders - now and in the future. We learn from our community, seek out cutting-edge solutions to our greatest challenges, pilot promising ideas, and scale strategies that work. Click "Follow" and subscribe to this newsletter to learn more!