FCPS outlines house map for success

Published 11:03 am Friday, March 20, 2015

To a crowd of more than 50, the Franklin City Public School division gathered to give its version of the State of the Union address.

“We all know what the State of the Union is, and the State of the Schools is basically in the same format,” said Kelvin Edwards, director of organization accountability and performance management. “Our superintendent will outline the agenda and where the Franklin City Public School system is headed.”

Superintendent Dr. Willie J. Bell presented the Framework for Excellence 3.0, which he said was the three-year plan for the system to make sure it is churning out students who will be successful in life.

Superintendent Dr. Willie J. Bell challenges the crowd to get others involved in the success of the schools. -- Cain Madden | Tidewater News

Superintendent Dr. Willie J. Bell challenges the crowd to get others involved in the success of the schools. — Cain Madden | Tidewater News

“We will look at eliminating the achievement gap,” Bell said. “Not closing it, I repeat, eliminating the achievement gap.”

The superintendent outlined four goals to make sure students are college-, career- and citizen-ready by the time they graduate from Franklin High School. Bell framed it as a four-room house, with the first being student achievement, the second efficiency of operations, the third positive climate and communication, and the last technology integration.

“Under that roof, they say we need four rooms — four strong rooms, linked together to help us deliver excellence,” he said. “Those four rooms are interlinked.”

Regarding student achievement, Bell said the system can’t be afraid of change because the children certainly are not. Teachers need to utilize technology and all devices that students do, including cell phones.

“Research shows that 40 percent of the classroom environment should be tech-savvy,” Bell said. “That is a shift for the teachers. Teachers are used to the old way. Teachers know how to teach, they just have to learn this new way.

“Our kids are ahead of us. If we rolled out devices across this stage, I guarantee every baby in this room, having never seen it before, can take you to Japan and back in five minutes. We would still be looking for the on button.”

To increase student achievement, Bell also said that they have to expand the relationships from teacher to student to parents to the community. Another goal in the 21st-century learning environment is graduating students with the soft skills the business world wants, critical-thinking, written and oral communication, and collaboration.

Efficiency of operations starts with the superintendent, and goes all the way to the community. Bell said that everyone individually has to set goals and be held accountable within the framework of excellence.

Over a longer period of time, Bell said, he envisions a facilities plan that would give the city a world-class school complex. He wants the buildings to be so state-of-the-art that everyone comes to Franklin to see how it is done.

“Can it be done?” Bell asked. “Yes, it can, with all of us pulling together.”

The third room, positive climate and communication, the superintendent admitted was a work in progress.

Bell said the system has started televising its board meetings, which is a step in the right direction. Social media is another method the system wants to use.

“We can send out a reverse 911 on the phone, but kids can intercept that,” Bell said. “If we post it on Facebook or tweet it, we’ll get a lot of hits.”

Continued outreach to parents and the community is also important, and the superintendent said principals are doing a good job, with programs such as Parents as Partners and the PTA. Bell said they are not only in the buildings, but they are going out to the community, if parents won’t come to them.

Technology integration is perhaps the biggest step the division has to make. Bell said professional development has to constantly happen, and the classroom has to be amplified to catch up with students.

The seven Cs are another framework step, and it all starts in the middle with caring. Expanding from there, the others are challenging, conferring, captivating, controlling, consolidating and clarifying.

“You can have 1 million degrees and 3 million letters of the alphabet behind your name, but if you don’t care, you can’t get them,” Bell said about reaching students. “We have to make sure we work on this one. We have to make sure we have a solid house that stays up through any storm. And we have to start with caring.”

Caring doesn’t just apply to the students, though. Bell said he has to care about the success of his principals, who have to care about the success of the teachers.

Finally, the community also has to care. Bell used symbolism from one of his favorite movies, “The Wizard of Oz,” to outline how to do this.

“My wife dies laughing when she hears one of my favorite movies is ‘The Wizard of Oz,’ but to me, there are so many lessons in the movie,” Bell said. “In it, Dorothy meets a man called the Tin Man. She gave him a little squirt — a little oil — so that he could get moving.

“When you see a child, pull out your tin can and say, ‘I care about you being successful.’ For those members of the community who are not here tonight, I want you who are present to take your tin can and squirt them. Say, ‘There is work to be done. Willie Bell has said that as a community, we have got to care.’”

Bell said that all of this will help bring the division back.

“Let’s go back and be the pride of the Southside,” Bell said. “The pride of the Tidewater area. Lets show everybody in this state — this country — that there is a world-class division called Franklin.”