State Board rips Franklin schools’ leadership

Published 10:24 am Friday, September 27, 2013

Click this photo to launch the video player. The School Board's discussion on FCPSS begins around the 01:03:00 mark of the video.

Click this photo to launch the video player. The School Board’s discussion on FCPSS begins around the 01:03:00 mark of the video.

RICHMOND—The Virginia Board of Education expressed serious concerns about the failure of division-level leadership in the Franklin City Public Schools System, which has resulted in poor student performance. This took place during the state school board meeting on Thursday in Richmond.

Franklin School Board Chair Edna King and Superintendent Dr. Michelle Belle were in attendance for a hearing to determine if the state school board would require FCPSS to undergo a division-level academic review. Unlike the school-level reviews the state conducted this past spring, which analyzed school-specific policies and procedures, a division-level assessment focuses on the division leadership, including the school board, superintendent and key central office administrators.

Dr. Kathleen M. Smith, director of the Office of School Improvement, began by stating that FCPSS has not met most of the federal benchmarks for Standards of Quality. Further, she noted five code citations, which are:

• At S.P. Morton, no remediation or intervention programs in place for fifth-grade students during initial visit; after-school tutoring subsequently offered

• At Franklin High School, there’s no evidence of supplemental assistance during the school day during initial visit; supplemental assistance for mathematics subsequently offered.

• Concerns listed in a personnel audit are applicable to all schools. For example, greater care should be used when hiring administrative and supervisory staff to be sure individuals either hold or qualify for the appropriate license and endorsement before an offer of employment is made.

• All schools rated accredited with warning

• Lack of targeted and job-embedded professional development noted in all schools, lack of monitoring and follow-up noted in all schools. Lesson plans didn’t reflect use of student performance data in instructional planning.

“At one time, the schools were not in this situation,” Smith said. “Scores haven’t always been a problem…it started in 2009-2010 and has deteriorated.

“We want to see action plans implemented and monitored,” she continued.

Diane Atkinson, committee chairwoman, said three things stood out of her that really highlights a division-level issue. One, the professional development that’s necessary on the new standards; two, the lack of intervention for the students; and three, there’s also a disconnect between interventions and what’s happening in the classrooms.

“It’s essential for our children to progress… It is a serious concern,” Atkinson said.

Adding to that were comments from board member Winsome Sears.

“This does appear this is a division-level problem. It all starts at the top, and a majority of the current board was there when the problems were identified,” she said referencing King’s appointment to the seven-member Franklin school board in 2009.

“There were problems beforehand, and they became apparent from 2009 onward. There is absolutely a lack of accountability,” continued Sears, speaking then directly to King, “You yourself said it’s been there all this time…The students aren’t getting what they need.”

Further, Sears noted that King had “touted the hiring of all the people to make things better,” and asked her about the board and their expertise.

In response, King said she became chairwoman in 2011-2012, and that the board is “a corporate power. So one member of a school board cannot make a difference. You can present ideas and concepts, but it does not mean it’s going to happen.”

She said she came on board in 2009 and could speak to things that have happened since.

“We made some major shifts in leadership in our central office in order that we would understand the delineated authority of those persons who work at the central office. As a result, we then decided as a board to delegate leadership authority to our building principals for instruction. That’s a major change. Research shows that when building principals are the leaders of instruction in their schools, then the type of instructional needs of students right there in that building for immediate needed corrections or whatever.”

“The leadership of the principals concerns me,” said Atkinson.

Sears asked again about the makeup of the Franklin school board, and wondered, “if the past was prologue… The problems are extremely egregious. There’s no remediation. No evidence of supplemental assistance.”

“What I would like to see from you, Dr. Belle, is that you have a team in place for what can be fixed,” said Betsy D. Beamer, school board vice president.

“This is a public confidence issue,” said board member Dr. Billy K. Cannaday Jr. “You have a chance to correct the matter. You have to regain the public’s trust. Listen to the academic review team. I don’t want to hear what you’ll do. I want to see. Don’t challenge them, ask for clarifications. The plan in place now isn’t working.”

Christian N. Braunlich, another board member, noted the turnover of principals at the three schools, four at the high school, five at the middle school and two at the elementary school.

“I care about the impact on kids,” Braunlich said. “Right now you’re failing these kids. Frankly, that happened on your watch. You’ve had your chance to fix this. You’ve got to fix this.”

Julie Grimes, communications manager for the Virginia Department of Education,

later confirmed the state board will make its decision on whether or not to place Franklin under division-level academic review at the next meeting on Thursday, Oct. 24.

“Should the board members have further questions, hopefully, they’ll have the answers this time,” she said. “Based on what was outlined today, the division clearly meets the criteria for division-level review.”

That afternoon, Belle spoke to The Tidewater News.

“Very honestly, I appreciate the things that were said. The bottom line is there are some things that need to be corrected,” she said. “Any assistance they’re going to render to us is appreciated and will be followed.

“I think we got a lot of great feedback,” Belle continued. “It was a very serious tone, and I truly appreciate that. Those that spoke were trying to establish that we’ve got to make this work.”

She said the school system has been this doing all along, but also recognized that “a different set of eyes” will help FCPSS see whatever needs to be fixed.

“I respect that and will follow through whatever they require and ask us to do,” Belle said.

She agreed with a remark by Cannady that no superintendent or teacher sets out to fail.

“I will fight that fight until it’s time to throw in the towel,” Belle said. “Now is not the time to throw in the towel.”