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uac100213001.gif Dr. Frank Till, the superintendent of Cumberland County Schools system has plenty to be excited about these days. Not only was the Cumberland County Schools system a finalist for the 2013 Broad Prize for Urban Education this year, the system received full accreditation and student test results are rising rapidly. Innovative partnerships like the Young Entrepreneurs Academy, a joint effort with the Fayetteville Regional Chamber, and Reading Rocks bring even more opportunities for local students to shine.

Knowing that today’s youth will thrive as adults in a technology-driven world, Till has embraced technology and seeks to equip today’s students with the skills they will need to compete as young professionals. For him it truly is about the students and giving them the opportunities and skills that will prepare them for the future and help them succeed, no matter what they choose to pursue. While all the accolades and achievements are significant, it’s important to understand that these are not the end goal. Yes the Broad Prize nomination is impressive and the accreditation is a mark of competence, but these are the result of countless hours of hard work and thoughtful consideration about how to best serve and educate the community’s most valuable asset — our youth.

CCS is accredited because it is doing the right things and making the right choices in how to launch the next generation to a successful future. Till maintains that by doing the right things (helping students learn and succeed in school) for the right reasons (providing them with skills that will make them competitive in the work place as adults) everything else will fall into place. As the fifth largest school district in the state and the 78th largest in the country, the successes happening right here in our community will likely have far-reaching effects on the next generation.

Truly, CCS has plenty to celebrate – Broad Prize finalists, accreditation, rising test scores, innovative programs and partnerships, technological advances are all part of what makes CCS a step above.

The 2013 Broad Prize for Urban Education comes with a $1 million prize and “honors a district that demonstrates the greatest overall performance and improvement in student achievement while reducing achievement gaps among ethnics groups and between social economic groups.” There is no nomination or application process. An institution’s performance is what decides which schools are considered for this prize. The committee considered 73 items from CCS during the review. Cumberland County Schools were selected because 92 percent of the system’s schools achieved “at least expected growth and 67 percent of the schools achieved high growth. Except for one test in one grade level, CCS “made at least expected growth on every End-of- Course and End-of Grade test administered by the state. The county and all our high schools exceeded 80 percent and surpassed the state average,” according to the CCS website.

“The Broad Prize nomination is really a celebration of America’s most improved school districts,” said Till. “It shows that we are moving in the right direction. The changes we are making are not a fad; they are institutional changes. That means that they aren’t based on one person or one school.”

Being a Broad prize finalist marks CCS as a leader among our nation’s school systems, and acknowledges all the hard work that staff and teachers do in educating students every day.

The school system is accredited by the AdvancED Accreditation Commission. This commission confers the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Council on Accreditation and School Improvement (SACS CASI) accreditation seal. The accreditation is an indicator that CCS is a quality school system. During the accreditation process, the commission considered the following standards: purpose and direction, governance and leadership, teaching and assessing, resources and supports systems and using results for continuous improvement. The accreditation is good for five years.

The president of AdvancEd describes the process as “… a rigorous process that focuses the entire school system on the primary goal of creating lifelong learners.”

CCS serves a diverse student population (44 counties and 70 different native languages) and continues to close the achievement gap among all the racial groups. In 2009, the End of Course gap between black and white students was 23.8 percent. In 2012, it was15.6 percent. The state average is 20.4 percent. The school system is on a high growth track and based on information from the 2011-2012 school year, CCS has no priority or low-performing schools and 11 schools were named N.C. Schools of Excellence and 27 were named Schools of Distinction.

The graduation rate for Cumberland County exceeded the state graduation rate in 2011/2012, and CCS students were awarded more than $40 million in scholarships for the same school year. This year, more than 80 percent of local high schools students graduated and they were collectively offered more than $48 million in scholarships.

Results like this don’t just happen. There are committed teachers and administrators spending countless hours working to help prepare students to be competitive in a fast-paced and technology driven world.

Innovation and partnerships with outside organizations provide opportunities to local youth.

The Reading Rocks Walk-a-thon celebrates 10 years of supporting literacy this year. This fundraiser has raised more than $1.5 million in the past decade and raised $245,000 just last year. The money is raised locally and stays in the schools in which it was raised. The funds are used to buy items that promote literacy, including digital books and iPads. This year, Reading Rocks in on Oct. 19. at Festival Park.

The Young Entrepreneurs Academy, which is run in conjunction with the Fayetteville Regional Chamber of Commerce and the Center for Entrepreneurship at Methodist University, is for students in 6-12 grades. This program is designed to help our Entrepreneurs bring their ideas to fruition. 10-02-13-dr.-till-cover-story.gif

“It’s like the TV show Shark Tank,” said Till. “Students get to present their ideas to a panel and see if they can get funding and sponsors for it.”

Methodist University is not the only institution of higher learning that partners with CCS. Fayetteville Technical Community College and Fayetteville State University both have programs that allow high school students to earn college credit while they are working toward graduation. It is possible in Cumberland County to graduate from high school with up to two years of college credit through these programs.

While offering students every opportunity to succeed, Till knows full well the hectic world that we live in makes it challenging for parents and guardians to keep up with the details of busy schedules. That is why CCS has developed a mobile phone app that will let busy parents stay up to date with CCS announcements and activities as well as follow their student’s progress. The app is already available and Till expects to put a few finishing touches on it in the next few weeks.

The growth and successes that CCS has accomplished have been through hard work and dedication of everyone in the school system. While these are just a few of the impressive accomplishments and programs that the system has to offer, Till has no illusions about how much further there is to go.

“We’ve got to keep working hard to make sure that our students are competitive once they leave here. The world they are going to work in is much different than the world we grew up in and it is our job to make sure they are ready.”

Find out more about the Cumberland County Schools System and the many programs it offers to help students succeed at ccs.k12.nc.us/departments.

Photo: A lot of hard work and dedication have made Cumberland County Schools a shining example of where our schools should be headed. Dr. Frank Till, Cumberland County Schools superintendant is pleased with the many achievements and what it means for local students.

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