IWCS hosts community gathering

Published 9:23 am Friday, April 21, 2017

Isle of Wight County Schools held its final community meeting for the 2016-2017 school year on Wednesday evening in the library of Smithfield Middle School, where school administrators and IWCS stakeholders once again met to discuss the future of the division.

The main topic for that evening was the completed draft of the division’s strategic plan, which is now available for review via the division’s website. Administrators presented the plan in the form of a map and an interactive exercise.

According to Dr. Marsha Kale, principal of Westside Elementary School, who served as a facilitator for one of the roundtable discussions, the plan is built upon several theories of action.

Among those are that schools recognize the value of deeper learning and all students working together, that schools need a rigorous curriculum for entry into any college or the workforce, that schools should give students a voice and a choice, that schools should connect students to the world beyond school, and that schools need support and accountability from the division office.

To begin the discussion, Kale asked the attendees at her table how they felt changes in the family have affected schools, to which Howard Freeman, a special education division employee, responded that he thought that today’s children had easier access to adult things and also mentioned the trend of “helicopter parenting.”

Jeff Mason, a parent, added that he felt parents of younger children often feel anxiety or fear, such as worrying that if their children doesn’t do well in second grade, they won’t get into a good college.

Kari Mills, another parent, felt that technology had the greatest impact on today’s student, explaining that they can just Google anything. Mason agreed.

“There’s nothing more eery than giving a presentation and seeing your audience fact check your presentation while you’re giving it,” he said.

He added that he felt that teachers were being asked to do a lot more for children, including things that were once the responsibility of parents.

“I have a friend who teaches third grade and I am shocked at all the things she is required to do,” he said. “They serve breakfast and lunch and take-home bags for dinner. She’s happy if they [the children] come fully clothed. My mom wouldn’t dream of letting me out of the house without the appropriate gear on.”

The discussion then moved to the division’s mission statement, strategic priorities and specific programs and actions the division could implement. The strategic plan currently includes the proposed  renovations and in-house career and technical education programs at Windsor and Smithfield high schools specified in the division’s education plan, and improvements to its alternative school known as UpLift Academy. The plan specifies that UpLift Academy offer a GED program by September 2019 and that the division partner with Paul D. Camp Community College to offer students the opportunity to graduate with high school diplomas and associates degrees by 2020.

Mills asked why a GED program would be necessary for students and questioned why they wouldn’t be able to receive a regular high school diploma as long as they remain within the school system. Freeman also felt it was an odd priority for the division to have, given its graduation rate of over 90 percent.

Kale replied that the GED program would be for the small percentage of students who don’t graduate.

“I’m cautiously optimistic about what the division is doing,” said Diana Theisinger, another parent.

To conclude, participants were given an anonymous survey on what they felt they could do to most directly or indirectly impact the division’s strategic priorities.