Changing superintendents not always answer

Published 11:48 am Saturday, November 10, 2012

by Clay Scott

Not long ago I read about Franklin parents calling for the resignation of school superintendent Dr. Michelle Belle.

They have some valid points.

Dr. Belle missed a lot of work, and the issues at the schools and complaints around town were about the same without her as they were with her.

Let’s get something straight though — firing Dr. Belle may make some parents feel better for a little while, but it will not solve the problems affecting Franklin Public Schools.

I’ve only lived in this town for seven years, but there have been three superintendents that I am aware of (Farmer, Pruett and Belle).

Is the fourth time the charm?

We may have had the same problems with and without Dr. Belle, but we have also had those problems under at least two other leaders.

Here’s the real kicker. If you folks in Franklin feel that you have it worse than those in Southampton, Isle of Wight, Suffolk, or any other district in this state, you misjudge. All those districts run the same curricula, they have the same structures and employ personnel trained in the same way.

As far as what they do, they are very much the same. The uniformity is by design; that is what is meant by the word “standard” in the infamous “Standards of Learning.” (For those who wish to argue that “standard” in that phrase refers to a minimum performance level, I will not bite. Just look at the teachers’ pacing guides and argue with those.)

If you don’t believe me about all districts in Virginia being the same, try this experiment. It has been done too many times to count.

Take teachers and administrators from 10 to 15 districts. Take the mission statements of those same districts. Break up each mission statement into its key phrases.

Mix the phrases with those three to four other districts. Set up tables with a representative or two from each of the districts included in that “grab-bag.” Finally, ask them to reconstruct the mission statements. They can never do it.

If you want to see changes, you need to do more than switch around the personnel. You have to be willing to question things that are taken for granted.

The problems facing Franklin Public Schools are not unique, but can’t be solved by continuing with the status quo. If you are less than satisfied with your children’s school, you are probably justified.

Our system has some serious shortcomings that extend far beyond this one district. I share your concern. You have every right to desire an educational experience that fits your family’s values and your child’s strengths and interests.

I’d love to chat with any and all of you. I can’t promise anything more than perspective and knowledge, but I’m willing to share all that I have.

I may not be the foremost authority on education reform, but I would be pleasantly surprised if there were someone else in this area who knows what I know. We can get together somewhere around town. This seems like the kind of thing that a community college or library would love to host. I’ll even bring the cookies.

CLAY SCOTT is a former Southampton Academy teacher and administrator and is working on his doctoral dissertation at The George Washington University. His study is titled Examining Social-Power Relationships with Government and Parent Stakeholders in schools. He can be reached at