Enough is enough

Published 11:03 am Saturday, September 29, 2012

All right, by a quick show of hands, how many of you were shocked when it was announced on Wednesday that none of Franklin’s schools were fully accredited?


That’s what I thought. In fact, the updated school report cards issued by the Virginia Department of Education confirmed what most in this community already knew; Franklin City Schools are in the midst of a full-blown crisis.

Yet rather than have a plan to turn things around (Superintendent Dr. Michelle Belle stated she is waiting on direction from the state on how we should move), there is only finger pointing and excuse making. There is no one taking responsibility. There appears to be no accountability.

Enough is enough.

The effects of a crumbling public education system are tearing at the very fabric of this community. What’s left of the middle class in Franklin is shuttling its children to private academies or neighboring public school systems. Home sales are stagnant because, given a choice, people are choosing to live in other localities where their children can receive a quality public education.

Businesses that would otherwise locate here are looking elsewhere for the same reason. Existing businesses have difficulty finding qualified applicants to fill available jobs.

The problem with failing schools is not just the negative impact it has on our children; it is also that their failure to perform is destroying an entire city.

With an extreme sense of urgency, immediate action must be taken before any hope of turning things around is lost forever.

The first step is for the school board to address the lack of positive leadership in the central office. Dr. Belle has been the superintendent for over three years. Under her guidance, test results have gone from bad to worse, teachers have left in droves and all three schools have lost their fully accredited status.

In any other professional realm, that track record would be cause for dismissal. Yet the school board has done its best to convince taxpayers that external causes, such as tougher Standards of Learning tests, are to blame.

Franklin’s schools didn’t lose full accreditation because this year’s math test was harder; they lost it because they had underperformed over a period of three years.

Ninety-five percent of the schools in Virginia have managed to remain fully accredited under the same set of tougher standards that Franklin schools blame on their failure. The school board needs to find someone who can get the job done.

The next step is for administrators to get out of the way and let teachers do what they do best — teach. It is no secret that in recent years teachers have been buried under an increasingly large pile of administrative nonsense that detracts from the time and energy they could devote to teaching their students and improving their performance.

As performance has lagged, the administration’s response has been to increase a teacher’s workload outside of the classroom rather than to give them the freedom to make decisions that will best impact their students.

The result is even poorer performance and an increasingly burdensome workload of administrative responsibilities. Teachers spend more time each day with their students than their own parents do.

Teachers know what each child needs and what can be implemented to help them reach their fullest potential. Teachers are trained professionals and should be treated as such. They should have the freedom to bring new ideas to the central office and the flexibility to implement them without fear of retribution. Micromanaging their every move from the central office is crushing their desire to remain in the profession and diminishes their role as the trained professional.

The third step is for city leaders to come to terms with the rapidly changing socio-economic conditions. Franklin has developed a reputation as a place where it’s easy to get on and stay on government assistance.

The result is that there are more children entering school with no preparation and little parental support. The elementary school is full of children who have never been read to and can’t even recognize the letters in their own names.

Their teachers are put in a position to have to teach them what they should already have known upon entering kindergarten, which diminishes their ability to teach at grade level for those who entered school prepared.

It is a cycle that is bad for the community and is devastating to our schools. This issue is delicate and will require substantial political courage for those who must deal with it, but deal with it they must.

There is no public policy issue that I’m more personally committed to than public education. It is the backbone of every strong community. It is also the Achilles’ heel of one that is weak.

We need to improve the performance of our schools not because we want to, but because we have to. It is not a reach to state that the future of this community hinges on whether or not we take immediate action.

Members of the community are screaming at the top of their lungs for it. We’ll be watching to see if the city’s leadership is listening.

TONY CLARK is the associate publisher at The Tidewater News. He can be reached at tony.clark@tidewaternews.com.