School turnaround not a quick fix

Published 10:42 am Wednesday, February 5, 2014

FRANKLIN—Franklin City School Board Chairwoman Edna King said that growth is what the Virginia Department of Education is looking for.

When the school board members met with Department of School improvement this past week, incremental growth in student achievement is what they want to see going forward. Also attending this meeting were board members of other districts including Norfolk, Richmond and Portsmouth.

Currently, King said, Franklin students rank in the 30th percentile as far as Standards of Learning scores. She said turning this around is not something that will happen overnight.

“This is an ongoing process,” she said. “This is not a quick fix, and I think the citizens should know this.”

King also said that when a school becomes a priority school, that despite any improvement, they remain a priority school for three years. The division is also waiting for the follow-up to the division level review, and any additional essential actions that might be required.

In regard to the division level review, King said that was also a three-year process.

“After three years of working with the department of school improvement, wherever we are, the goal is to have enough support to sustain the educational process,” she said.

On Thursday, school board members on hand, with Ward 3 member Johnetta Nichols absent, addressed the division level review done by AdvancED, the academic review and the licensure review.


Will Councill, Ward 1 board member, first asked the administration about licensure issues. Specifically, he was concerned that 16 classes were taught by teachers who are not highly qualified. Human Resources Director Gail Wade responded.

“At the time of the review, that was what it appeared to be,” she said. “A lot of those findings and classes listed were taught by teachers not endorsed. That has been resolved.”

At the high school, where 9 of the licensure problems were found, Wade said only four classes remain now that are taught by teachers out of endorsement, and there is a plan in place to ensure teachers become fully licensed.

“Until the endorsement is received, we plan to make reassignments and use co-teaching models so to be in compliance,” she said. “An endorsed, highly qualified teacher will be in place.”

As of Thursday, no teachers will be hired in the school division if they don’t have paperwork for certification and licensure endorsement.

Clarifying further, Councill said the division had not been hiring teachers who were not licensed. The problem was that sometimes a teacher would be endorsed in North Carolina, but that it would take time to get them licensed in Virginia, due to the speed of the way VDOE works.

Central Office

Councill was also concerned about observations conducted by the central office team, as the report had stated that proper written documentation was not making it to teachers on these issues.

Director of Instruction Dr. Shannon Smith said much of the feedback was going to building principals to make sure that they were on the same page regarding the levels of curriculum, and that written feedback was not going to teachers.

Another concern shared by Councill was a line from the review that stated that the central office exists to deliver VDOE mandates.

“I know in my heart that is not the case,” he said. “Please respond.”

Superintendent Dr. Michelle Belle did respond, and she was visibly upset.

“We do both,” she said. “We do deliver DOE mandates, but the central office is supposed to provide support to the buildings. We provide support in anyway we can.

“(VDOE) doesn’t dictate everything we do. Your policy and procedures dictate too,” she added to the school board.

King said to remember that stakeholders were also interviewed when considering that particular comment.

“Stakeholders might not understand all of the proceedings and things that take place in the schools,” she said.

One thing that came up a few times in the AdvancED review was the mission and vision statement.

“Will’s opinion is that we have one mission and vision statement for the system,” Councill said. “Each school has one, and there is nothing wrong with that. But let’s have one mission and vision statement that you can see when you walk through the school board office, so people can know what the system is about and what we do.”

Belle said the review claimed the mission statement isn’t anywhere, but that it is there, including in her agenda for the administrators retreat, where they read it every time.

“I say they didn’t look hard enough,” she said.

King said that comment came from stakeholders as well, but she agreed that it wasn’t published enough.

“They asked me what it was, and I told them in general terms what it was,” she said, and asked the other board members if they were asked, and they either did not comment or said they couldn’t remember.

School Board

To improve transparency, Councill also made a motion to open up meetings with Newton Alliance, which was formally known as Edison Learning, the turnaround partner at J.P. King and S.P. Morton. It passed unanimously. The board meets with Newton Alliance at city hall on the second Tuesday of every month at 6 p.m.

Councill said that the issues spoken about at this meeting were strictly about what was going on at the schools, and that it did not name student or teacher names.

King said that the principals speak about the Edison reports during their report to the board.

“By the time the building principals give their reports, nobody is here except the staff,” King said. “The public doesn’t hear the report. I would encourage the public to come and stay, at least until the principals give their reports.”

King also took exception to the issue that the board was conducting business in closed session that should be in open session.

She said that School Board Attorney Taylor Williams keeps them on task when it comes to only discussing what is on the agenda. She said Williams also gets a copy of the agenda beforehand.

“When I took the chair, one thing I said was that we will be transparent,” she said. “We have been. I think somebody who was interviewed in the process went out and said that we are not transparent. That we discuss things we should not be discussing in closed session, and we do not.”

The line from the AdvancED review states: “Interviews with board members and system and school leadership revealed that information regarding the academic progress of classes, grade levels and schools is reviewed during closed school board meetings. Routine reports by Edison Learning are given in closed meetings and not provided for the public.”

One big detail King was concerned with was getting parents involved.

“When we talk about needing support from the community, this is where we need a lot of support in helping us and other citizens to get our parents involved,” King said. “This is a big need for us to do well. Parents are our major stakeholders.”

Ward 1 Councilor Barry Cheatham said he was disappointed in the meeting.

“Overall, I was happy they took the time and went through all three items,” he said. “But some of the important things I feel like they washed over, or they didn’t look at it close enough.

“I did have someone tell me that Will (Councill) is starting to ask some of the hard questions. And I like what he said regarding mission statements — they need to make them more visible.”