Northside High has improved, must meet challenges

A turnaround at Northside High began 13 months ago and the momentum created by students and faculty to improve the school continues to grow, Principal Melinda Voorhies said.

“I think we’re way ahead of schedule,” said Voorhies about the school’s progress during the past year.

A turnaround plan — approved by the School Board in early 2012 — placed a new administrative team led by Voorhies at the school. The team quickly got behavior issues on the campus under control, which opened up opportunities to advance plans for the school, she said.

Last August, a new academy of legal studies opened that capitalized on the school’s successful mock trial team. Next August, another new academy focused on communications arts — such as radio and TV broadcasting — will begin, Voorhies said.

“Had you told me that a year ago, that we’d have another academy ... I wouldn’t have believed it,” she said. “We’re ahead of where I thought we’d be.”

The attention on the turnaround efforts also sparked more parental and community involvement, Voorhies said.

Last week, the Upper Lafayette Economic Development Foundation organized a meeting of area business owners and residents at the school. The plan was to connect the school with the community members, said Herbert Schilling, a foundation founder.

Voorhies shared with the group data on the school’s performance from 2008 until now.

The school’s performance score rose from an F to a D this year —”which was huge for us because if you’re an F school, you can get taken over by the state,” she told the group.

Since 2008, the school’s performance score has improved from a 65.9 to a 76.7 as of 2012. The improvement wasn’t far behind the district’s performance score in the same time period, which was 91.5 in 2008 and 97.6 in 2012, she said.

This year, Voorhies said, she expects the school’s accountability rating to improve to at least a C.

“I’m shooting for a B and I think we’ll get there,” she told the crowd at the Upper Lafayette meeting.

In the past year, the school offered more ACT test preparation to students, which resulted in a four-point improvement in students’ average composite score from a 13.2 in 2011 to a 17.2 in 2012, Voorhies said.

Her goal is to improve students’ ACT composite to a 20 or higher because universities have increased admission standards, she said.

“We had some athletes who couldn’t get scholarships because their ACT was not high enough,” Voorhies said.

There’s still work to do to help students academically, she said.

“Despite the growth, my big beef was we’ve got this 59 percent graduation rate and a 22 percent dropout rate. Good God, that’s horrible!” she told the crowd.

The school has worked on ways to get students interested in school through incentives for positive behavior and getting to class on time. Voorhies said she’s also empowered students by involving them in decisions, such as asking them to devise a rewards system for the school’s positive behavior program.

The school’s Parent Teacher Organization reorganized in the past year with a focus on student success, said Vanessa Williams, PTO president. Williams’ daughter and goddaughter both attend the school.

“We’re not about bake sales. We’re about improving school performance scores,” Williams said.

The group helps fund incentives for the school’s “Viking Bucks” program, which rewards students for their good behavior.

She welcomed the community’s involvement and was encouraged by the attendance at the Upper Lafayette meeting at the school.

“More events like this are needed so we can get the word out that Northside is like any other school,” Williams said.

Williams said she also hoped some of the school’s needs for athletic facilities would find willing partners among the crowd.

The school needs a new football field, which will cost $500,000, said Trent Ellis, Northside’s athletic director. Ellis said the district will pay half the cost, if the school raises matching funds.

Other needs for the athletic department include computers for student athlete tutoring, new softball and baseball dugouts, new lockers, an activity bus, a renovation of stadium press box, and club seats for the stadium.

More athletic sponsors will have an advertising avenue through the school’s new partnership with WiFi Sports, which provides live streaming broadcasts of sporting events, Ellis said.

Community members can give of themselves, Voorhies said.

“We need you and we need you as human capital,” she said. “I can’t tell you how this warms my heart because it means you’re taking a personal interest in Northside and Upper Lafayette.”

Editor’s note: The story was changed on March 4 to correct the name of the school’s athletic director.