What would it take to get parents involved in their children’s education?

Published 9:51 am Friday, August 1, 2014

Earlier this year, an audit of a school district showed that a board was responsible for creating policies that led to a sharp decline in standards in what had been a solid school system with a good reputation around the state. Furthermore, the board was also found to be in violation of state and federal laws due to those policies.

Sound familiar? This scenario played out in Scott County, Mississippi, and the governor stepped in and threatened to put the district under state control after that sharp decline. Had this happened, the children would have lost all extra-curricular activities and a number of privileges to focus strictly on academics. This was in a year when the girl’s basketball team was projected to compete for the state title with its senior All-American wing Victoria Vivians.

Due to pressure from the community and the state, the school board and the superintendent resigned. Working out that deal, the governor backed off of declaring a total takeover and allowed the children to continue their extra-curricular activities (the girl’s basketball team ended up losing in the state finals game to Holly Springs).

After the resignations, more than 100 people showed up to meet the Mississippi Department of Education administrator selected to get the school back on track as a temporary superintendent. The school system’s accreditation was not pulled at that time, though the governor is still watching to make sure that state law is upheld.

Parents were extremely upset that their children were going to have to suffer the loss of extra-curricular activities due to the choices that the school board and superintendent had made in breaking the law.

Yet, would they have come out in those numbers if it hadn’t been for the threat to take away extra-curricular activities?

Many people thought the school board was made up of fine people, though they were happy at least that their resignations led to being able to keep the district’s sports. On the other hand, many were critical of their superintendent and happy to be rid of him, even though the board had played a role as well.

How does this relate to Franklin? Well, they got off easy. Scott County’s failures were not academic — the system had a district-wide B average in meeting the academic requirements for accreditation. The teachers and students were not responsible for this, it was the board and superintendent.

In Franklin, the board was also accused of breaking state law. Furthermore, it was suggested that those failures contributed to a poor academic climate, which led to actual accreditation and Standards of Learning failures.

Yet appearances by parents at meetings, including the one where the Virginia Department of Education hosted a town hall meeting, have been few and far between.

The situation also reminded me of Councilman Greg McLemore, who has said that he would be in favor of taking away athletics until the system righted the ship academically.

As evidenced by Scott County, doing that did get parents’ attention quickly and it did get the board to resign so the state could quickly rectify the problems in the district.

Now, it’s way too late for that here, as VDOE has already delivered its sanctions with the Memorandum of Understanding and the Corrective Action Plan. And while it’s hard to blame new members on the board, some do remain who voted for the policies that led to VDOE claiming that they broke the law. That plus a CAP goof-up early after its adoption with hiring a principal this summer didn’t exactly broker any confidence. But at least to the board’s credit that situation was rectified soon after new Superintendent Willie Bell came on board.

Regardless, it is time to move forward. Hopefully the board will be more mindful of the state code. City council members should also be mindful of how the school board members are voting, as council votes them in.

Of course, I also realize being on the school board is a tough job that does not pay well enough to allow members to quit working to focus all of their attention on it. In that, I hope this superintendent does a better job in educating the board on its responsibilities than the previous superintendent seemingly did. I do not believe any member on the board has his or her heart in the wrong place.

And then there are the parents. Last year, I had been told by the board chair and the superintendent that the situation with the parents was great. Though as I worked more with the system, the community and spoke to teachers, parents were cited as a concern.

Willie Bell seems to be aware of that. He said early on that if they wouldn’t come to him, he would go to them. He used the analogy that the bus goes both ways, and on Tuesday, Aug. 19, he’s having a community bus tour.

It’s a solid beginning, and hopefully, he will have success in reaching the parents in Franklin and earning their vital help in turning the system around.

CAIN MADDEN is the managing editor of The Tidewater News. He can be contacted at 562-3287 or cain.madden@tidewaternews.com