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From the Desk of ACS Supt. David Burleson: System’s Cohort Graduation Rate Best in NC

Dear Editor:

Last week the North Carolina State Board of Education released statewide accountability data for the 115 school systems in our state, and Avery County’s cohort graduation rate was ranked number one in the state at  95.8 percent. This rate measures the percentage of students who start as ninth graders and finish high school in four years.  The Avery County Schools have been in the top four of the state four out of the last five years.  We are extremely proud of setting the standard for North Carolina, but nothing compares to the pride we feel for our students and community who have helped us achieve this status.

Personally, I would like to thank our dedicated staff from Pre-K through 12th grade for their efforts to build relationships, to work with students, and to foster a supportive learning environment.  Our parents have offered encouragement and love, which have positioned students to graduate from high school. Our community, school board, county commissioners, agencies, businesses and many stakeholders have stood together ensuring that services were in place for each child. Most importantly, I want to thank our students who embraced responsibility and maintained accountability for their education. Earning a 95.8 percent graduation rate was truly a community effort and one that we will work tirelessly to obtain and improve.

Our mission as a school system is to ‘graduate every student from high school’. Our goal is to reach a graduation cohort of 100%. I would like to mention a few important initiatives that have helped our students gain momentum to ensure graduation. Early literacy is imperative for a successful foundation for school. It all begins with our six Five-Star Pre-K classrooms and mobile Pre-K classroom, SCOTTIE, that each provide a state-endorsed curriculum where literacy is the primary focus. Our schools deliver a literacy rich curriculum that aggressively and proactively ensures that each student advances to the next grade level on time.

In addition to literacy, we have a one-to-one technology program where every student, K-12, is issued a computing device to use as a primary tool during the school day. This effort could not have been possible without the leadership and collaboration of a visionary School Board of Education and County Commissioners approved funding five years ago. Partnerships with the High Country Council of Governments, the Williams YMCA of Avery County, the High Country United Way, Daymark and Mayland Community College (MCC) have offered opportunity for internships, on the job training and dual enrollment that is vital to student progress. Currently, there are over 300 Avery High School students enrolled in 38 different MCC classes that will graduate high school with transferable college credit.

Lastly, Blue Ridge Academy has increased the flexibility for young people to obtain their high school diploma and, at the same time, gain valuable work skills and experiences while attending school. Again, many efforts in many areas contributed to this successful graduation percentage.

As we review all the testing data, Avery County’s scores are comparable to the state average, as we are above the state average in most grade levels in reading, math and science.  Further review of the data revealed that the majority of our students did make growth from the 2014-15 school year to the 2015-16 school year.  Student growth on any scale is a result of the diligent teamwork by our faculty, staff, students, parents and community. Our goal is to work with our students to help them master all skills enabling them to achieve well on any required test, but we especially want to prepare them for life as productive successful citizens.

Here are some highlights from the 2015-2016 school year:

  • The Avery County Schools (ACS) ranks 19th out of 115 school systems in overall proficiency.
  • ACS is the top performing school system in our region in fifth grade reading, math and science.
  • ACS is in the top five of the region in 8 of 17 tested areas.
  • ACS is ranked in the top ten of the state in fifth grade reading, fifth grade math, fifth grade science, seventh grade math and seventh grade reading.
  • ACS had two schools receiving a grade of A.  The Avery High STEM Academy and Crossnore Elementary School, which also has an A+ grade.  Crossnore is only 1 of 50 schools in the state with an A+ designation.
  • 80% of our schools made at least expected growth.
  • ACS had the highest ACT composite score in its history and ranked 23rd out of 115 school systems in the percent of students meeting college readiness benchmarks.

These highlights reveal what hard working staff, concerned parents, a supportive community, and dedicated students can do when we work together.  We are very proud of last year’s results but have a lot of work to do to make sure every student in our school system is prepared to be a productive citizen.

As Superintendent and a community member, I can testify that we all understand the importance of providing a quality education for each of our students.  Our mission stands firm to graduate every student from high school globally prepared for life in the 21st century. We will continue to provide our students not only the best education possible but also to provide them a competitive edge when they leave high school.  We are committed to work with each student and their family to offer each graduate resources to be gainfully employed or to attend the college of their choice.  It is our desire to work collectively with our community to ensure that each student is prepared.  I encourage each member of our community to join with us to provide every resource and opportunity possible for our students.

In closing, I would like to make you aware of several important dates:

Saturday, September 24 – Avery High Band Classic, 3 p.m. featuring the Viking Marching Band and other bands from across the state.

Tuesday, September 27 – Brad King Bowl at 6:30 p.m. The Middle School Viking football team will play Cloudland and the gate will be given to a student in our school system who has financial needs because of health.

Friday, October 7 Avery Homecoming where the Vikings take on the Henderson Bearcats. The Homecoming parade will begin at 4:00 P.M. and our schools will be dismissing at 1:00 P.M. (Newland Elementary School will dismiss at 12:30 p.m.).

Tuesday, October 25 – Parent-Teacher Conference Day.

The support from our parents and community is greatly appreciated and definitely makes a difference for our students.


David Burleson