ECU News Services


Researchers land grant for Project CEO

Two East Carolina University faculty members have landed a grant to provide staff development and training to the Pitt County School System.

Dr. Marjorie Ringler of the Department of Educational Leadership in the College of Education and Debra O’Neal of the Department of English in the Thomas Harriot College of Arts and Sciences have been awarded $261,204 through a North Carolina Quality Educators Through Staff Development and Training (NC QUEST) competitive grant.

Ringler and O’Neal were awarded the grant to support Project CEO, a partnership between the College of Education, the Thomas Harriot College of Arts and Sciences, and Pitt County Schools.

“The purpose of Project CEO is to change the perceived role of the principal from the ‘booking agent,’ the one who manages the building, the schedule and the professional development, to the ‘CEO-Chief Educational Officer,’ the instructional leader who will facilitate, lead and participate in professional development for his or her school with the goal of improving student academic literacy across the content areas,” said Ringler.

ECU faculty and a team of principals and lead teachers from Pactolus K-8 School and Wellcome Middle School will learn, implement, and coach content based instructional strategies through the Sheltered Instruction Observation Protocol (SIOP) model. Leading the effort for Pitt County Schools will be Dr. Joseph Nelson, principal of Pactolus school, and Jeff Theus, principal of Wellcome Middle.

The SIOP focuses on improving academic literacy for English language learners (ELLs) and standard English learners (SELs). In Pitt County, the economy attracts many Hispanic immigrants who lack English language proficiency, O’Neal said. Many school leaders in rural eastern North Carolina are dealing for the first time with a subgroup ELL population who now counts in their NCLB accountability system for school reporting. However, neither the principal nor the teachers have been formally prepared in their higher education and professional development to address a majority ELL population, she said.

In addition to ELLs, these two schools have high number of SELs. SELs are native English speakers whose dialects are nonstandard and whose home languages differ structurally from standard academic English. Students who live in poverty typically are SELs and in addition lack appropriate background knowledge for school settings. Both Pactolus and Wellcome have students who are traditional ELLs as well as those that are SELs due to language deficiencies and lack of background knowledge.

Grant work will start this summer with intense planning, baseline data collection, and professional development. During the 2010-2011 academic year, ECU faculty will work on a weekly basis with two teams comprised of 14 teacher leaders, principals and lead teachers. Project CEO results will directly benefit the initial team by improving their teaching and coaching skills and as a result improve student learning in their classrooms.

“The intended impact of Project CEO is to develop a core group of teachers who can facilitate sustainable professional development in the Sheltered Instruction Observation Protocol model school wide,” Ringler.

The school-wide implementation of the SIOP instructional strategies will take place the following school year, 2011-2012 after a school-wide summer professional development. Project CEO projects it will impact all 88 teachers at both schools and the entire student population by improving both instruction and student achievement in discipline based literacy, she said.

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This story appeared originally in the April 30, 2010 issue of Pieces of Eight. An archived version of that issue is available at