Corey Moore has a tough job ahead of him.
The ambitious principal of Walnut Creek Elementary School, which will open for the 2011-12 school year, has set a goal for his school to be a national model for innovative education within five years.
Although this is Moore’s first time helming a brand-new school, he has worked in education for 16 years both as a teacher and as an administrator. From 2008 until now he served as assistant principal at Middle Creek High.
The freshly minted Walnut Creek building can hold 800 students, and it looks as though the school will be near capacity. About 50 percent of those students will be below grade level, and 83 percent of students will qualify for free or reduced-price lunch, also known as “F and R students.” The numbers could change somewhat with staggered enrollment throughout the summer and during the first few days of school.
The Record recently sat down with Moore to get his take on the new school.
“I think we have a different kind of work,” Moore said. “I have worked in schools of all kinds. I’ve worked in schools that had zero F and R, and the work there was still demanding. It was still very hard work in making sure those students’ needs were being met and that they experienced growth. I don’t put the work we’re doing here any more difficult than a principal in another school. I think that our challenges require that we have different kinds of resources in our building.”
For instance, the school will employ a full-time social worker to deal with issues “that can impede the learning process.”
Teachers are at the center of meeting Walnut Creek’s five-year goal. The school is about 90 percent staffed so far.
Hiring teachers, Moore said, “is the biggest challenge for this particular assignment because I believe that our kids can read, write and do math on grade level and, given the right teachers in the classrooms that are willing to put forth their best effort in providing the kind of instruction that they need, they can be successful.”
“It is important that those people we bring to Walnut Creek embody the philosophy of high expectations for all — for themselves first, but then for students and for those that they work with — but then also have a work ethic and a sense of urgency as to what it is that we need to be doing for our boys and girls on a daily basis.”
It will take work — more work than in the average school — to bring all students up to grade level. The school day at Walnut Creek will span from 8:30 a.m. to 3:45 p.m., longer than most schools in the district. Moore also expects his teachers to stay after school on a regular basis and come in for Saturday instruction as well.
For his pains, Moore will get a $7,000 bonus. But unlike teachers at some of the district’s low-performing schools, teachers at Walnut Creek will not receive any extra money for signing on.
Moore refused to release official demographic data on his teachers until he has the school fully staffed, but he said “a large number” have master’s degrees, National Board certification and experience working with a similar student population.
Moore has also structured the school day to include a daily two-hour block of literacy instruction that will include guided reading groups and an intensive battery of vocabulary, fluency, comprehension and writing.
A daily enrichment period will offer remediation for struggling students and acceleration for students who have mastered the material.
Walnut Creek will regularly take stock of where students are through common grade-level assessments.
“We don’t want to wait until January, February and March to be proactive,” Moore said. “At that point, in my opinion, it’s being reactive. We’re going to start in August; we’re going to start in September looking at the data and making sure that we’re working with our kids in a fashion that is going to cause them to be able to begin moving forward in their progress.”
Many schools with students below grade level, under the pressures of state testing requirements in reading and math, focus narrowly on those subjects to the exclusion of a broader curriculum. Moore said Walnut Creek will avoid that pitfall.
“We are charged with delivering the North Carolina standard course of study, and that’s what we’ll do at Walnut Creek,” Moore said. “We’ll deliver the standard course of study for social studies; we’ll deliver the standard course of study for technology; we’ll deliver the standard course of study for science. I have been a high school administrator, so I know the effects of kids not receiving effective science instruction and effective social studies instruction.”
Low parent involvement often goes hand in hand with low student performance. Not so at Walnut Creek, Moore said. The school has already hosted a well-attended “meet the teacher” event at Southeast Raleigh High, and the school’s PTA recently elected its officers.
The school will offer workshops throughout the year for parents who may not have the skills or knowledge to support their child’s learning.
“I understand that parents work, and I think that involvement in your child’s education is more than just coming to a school for a meeting,” Moore said. “I think that involvement in education means that you know what’s going on with your child, you know how to contact your child’s teacher, you know how to help your child with their homework assignments and their projects and those types of things. You know how to advocate for your child. Those are the kinds of things that we’re going to work to make sure that our parents are doing.”
“We’re going to be about dispelling the myths and defying the odds at Walnut Creek,” he said.