Headed in the right direction?

Published 11:08 am Saturday, September 28, 2013

On our website, www.thetidewaternews.com, we constantly run public opinion polls to see what our readers think regarding various issues. The range in topics tends to be pretty broad, from something as frivolous as asking how you plan to spend a summer vacation, to more substantive issues as local elections or major public policy decisions. I usually don’t put much stock in the accuracy of the results, as our methodology is almost completely unscientific. But I do think they paint a fairly accurate portrait of what our readers think on certain issues.

To be fair when we publish a new poll, regardless of the topic, we will provide a wide range of responses for participants to choose from. For example, if we ask how you plan to spend your summer vacation, we will not only offer as possible responses the obvious “going to the beach” or “going to the mountains,” we will usually include something like “I hate summer, so who cares” as well to try to cover all the bases.

A week or so ago, we posted a poll asking what readers thought should be done with respect to the division’s top leadership in light of recent information that has come out regarding the performance of Franklin’s public schools. We offered three possible responses; 1) Terminate top leadership, 2) Keep leadership in place and demand more accountability and 3) Give it time, they are headed in the right direction. When the poll closed earlier this week, it had amassed more responses than any other poll we’ve offered in nearly four years, with 487 votes cast. Not surprisingly, the first option was overwhelmingly winner, capturing 71 percent of the vote with a total of 347. But the option that came in second place did completely catch me by surprise, as people who feel Franklin’s schools are headed in the right direction cast 76 votes. And when I say it caught me by surprise, what I really meant was I found it totally inconceivable that there is anyone, let alone 76 people, who is paying attention at all to what is going on and still feels the schools are headed in the right direction.

And so, with hope that some of those 76 people may be reading this column today, I want to offer some additional facts that may help them better understand the true direction the schools are headed in.

In 2009, which also happens to be the year that Dr. Michelle Belle was hired to be the superintendent of Franklin’s school and Mrs. Edna King, the current chairperson, was first appointed to a seat on the school board, all three of Franklin’s schools were fully accredited. Today, none of them are fully accredited and two of the three are classified as priority schools, all of which means two things; Franklin’s percentage of schools that are not fully accredited (100) is the highest in the state, and that two of the district’s three schools perform in the bottom 5 percent in the state. By any conceivable measure, that’s not indicative of a system headed in the right direction.

In 2009, Franklin’s schools performed reasonably well on Standards of Learning (SOL) tests. Yet for the last three years, student achievement of the SOLs has deteriorated. Below are the percentages of students who pass the five key testing areas at both S.P. Morton Elementary School and J.P. King Middle School for the last four years:


For those who feel these scores are indicative of a system headed in the right direction, stop reading them from right to left, and understand that these are the percentages of students who are passing, not failing. When read from left to right, as they should be, it becomes clear now that far fewer students are passing their SOLs than they were four years ago. That makes it difficult for me to understand how someone could feel the school system is headed in the right direction.

The last set of facts I will present are Franklin’s overall ranking in each testing area as a school system when compared to the other 131 systems in the Commonwealth of Virginia. Out of 132 total school districts, Franklin’s ranking in each of the five core areas are:

English: Reading 130
English: Writing 129
History and Social Science 131
Mathematics 132
Science 127

And if anyone was wondering what school system in the commonwealth had the single lowest percentage of students passing any one of the five core testing areas, wonder no more. Yup, it’s Franklin, where only 44.25 percent of its students passed the mathematics portion of the SOL tests.
It’s really tough for me to figure out how anyone of sound mind could equate this type of performance with a school system headed in the right direction. But if you think you can convince me, give it a shot. Just know that the facts are not in your favor, or those of the children who are being left behind.

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