Newspapers are the cause of all problems?

Published 10:38 am Friday, January 30, 2015

When watching the Franklin City Schools Superintendent Dr. Willie Bell at the Virginia Board of Education meeting in Richmond this past week, a few things stood out.

They were a lot nicer than they had ever been. In the past, if then-superintendent Dr. Michelle Belle or board chair Edna King tried to make excuses or sugarcoat problems, they were blasted. For Bell, back in November, he had it easier due to being the new guy. However, it still had to be an unpleasant experience sitting at that desk under the scrutiny of VBOE as they trashed the corrective action plan, which they had paid a consultant to help a community advisory group complete.

In January? VBOE practically made the excuses for him.

You’ve only been there for six months. This problem isn’t your fault. You can’t be expected to turn this around in six months. It’ll take years.

Some members were harder on him, but it was nothing like the hour-and-a-half onslaught Franklin was accustomed to.

For Bell, though, perhaps the change worked better, as he was far less defensive. He talked more openly about the problems and how they were addressing them. There was still sugarcoating by the superintendent, but it was not like the November meeting.

And to really change for the better, the system is going to need to admit the problems, at least internally. I don’t know about you, but when I sugarcoat my problems and make excuses, it’s because I don’t really want to change. Perhaps it is because I don’t really believe it’s a problem, or perhaps it’s because it’s not a priority ahead of the other progress that needs to be made.

Only when I don’t believe my own sugarcoating or excuses, do I really have a chance to make a change.

Now, of course, fixing failing schools is infinitely more complicated and important than any problem I might have. But I still have to think that as a teacher, if I hear my superintendent telling the state board that everything is peachy, then where is my incentive to get better if I’m not Type A?

Hopefully, for the children’s sake, there’s a different face privately than there is publicly.

The other thing that stood out was a comment from Dr. Billy Cannaday Jr., a former superintendent. He told Bell that no matter what he says or does, he’s going to be blasted in the newspaper. This was in reference to how the system set its goals, with Cannaday feeling like Franklin set them a little lofty. That it’d be near impossible to bring J.P. King Middle School to full accreditation this year. Yet, that was the goal.

Board President Christian Braunlich was worried about those same goals. Yet, when Bell complained about how the community would attack him for setting a goal that wasn’t full accreditation, he had a different response.

Braunlich, who came to Franklin back in May when the board of education hosted a public forum at J.P. King, said that he thought people would be reasonable concerning realistic expectations.

I don’t even have to try hard to show that Braunlich’s statement is more accurate. Yes, when Franklin High School came out of accredited with warning status, of course the headlines were positive. No, when S.P. Morton Elementary School’s scores came in worse than the previous year, the headlines were not positive.

But J.P. King was a different story. When scores came back, the middle school was not going to be accredited. But they had so many positive gains that if it were possible to come out of Priority School status entering year three, they would have. That was an accomplishment to be ahead of schedule.

And Bell has been lauded for many of his and the school system’s accomplishments over the past six months — the volunteer program, the Qualified Zone Academy Bonds, the day in the community, finding time to earn his doctorate, etc.

The only bad publicity Bell has really received so far has been when he denied that an assault took place at Franklin High School, and then he subsequently tried to cover up the hiring practices that led to an alleged heroin dealer ending up in a first-grade classroom.

Both would have still been stories, as the community has a right to know. But the only need to drag the superintendent’s name into the first story was because he lied about it, and the only reason to do four stories on the teacher in a week’s time was because the information wasn’t made available for the first story.

But back to the subject, the test scores. Yes, the community and this newspaper are going to hold the school system accountable. But as long as you don’t go and blame the children for the bad scores like the previous administration did, most reasonable people understand that it takes time to lift up children who are two to three grade levels behind the current grade they are somehow in.

You just have to be honest with us.

Cain Madden is the managing editor of The Tidewater News. He can be reached at 562-3187 or