LETTER: Embracing mediocrity

Published 6:00 pm Sunday, August 28, 2022

To the Editor: 

On June 20, Christopher Smith, the 36-year member of the Southampton County School Board, stood in front of the school board selection commission in search of yet another term in office. Mr. Smith, who represents the Jerusalem district of the county, was asked why he felt he should be reappointed to his district’s seat on the board.

During his prepared response, Mr. Smith gave two reasons in support of his application for re-appointment. The first was that he had been part of the initial effort to start the dual-enrollment program between Southampton County Public Schools (SCPS) and Camp Community College. While at the time this was a significant achievement – to the extent that it is not a program unique to SCPS  – dual enrollment falls squarely into the category of “what have you done for me lately.”

The second accolade Mr. Smith claimed as his own shows just how out of touch our school board, and its selection commission, are with present day reality. He said to the commission, and I quote, “Because Southampton County schools are second to none.”

In what is an unfortunate reality for Mr. Smith’s credibility, that of our selection commission and, ultimately, the quality of our children’s education, the cold hard facts do not even come close to backing up his absurd statement. Regardless, the commission announced a week later, with no explanation as to why, it was appointing Mr. Smith to another term on the school board.

Here are the facts: Southampton County’s public schools are not second to none; they are second to many. According to schooldigger.com, a website that collects standardized test information and objectively ranks every school and school district in Virginia, SCPS collectively ranks 65th out of 132 school districts in Virginia. Out of 1,109 elementary schools, our four elementary schools in rank 453, 492, 586 and 749. The middle school ranks 282nd out of 415 across the state and, of 325 state high schools, ours rolls in at 164.

All that aside, what is perhaps most disturbing about the upcoming school year as it relates to our county’s ability to provide an adequate public education for our children is that no honors classes are being offered to our high school students. No information about this fact was made available to parents, no reasons were given and, worst of all, students in line for accelerated learning have been given no recourse. It may not be the deepest wound inflicted yet, but for the parents and students who value the quality of their educations, it may be the “most unkindest cut of all.”

Defenders of our inept and ineffective school administrators have embraced the nationwide shortage of teachers as the most recent scapegoat for a lack of educational equality in Southampton County. Close observers of this district would point out, however, that had our administrators been listening to the concerns of the professional educators they employ, and the parents whose children they teach, Southampton County would not have a teacher shortage. But our school leadership, specifically including our school board, is more concerned with complaining about being held to public accountability than actually doing the work for which they volunteered to be publicly accountable.

The motto of SCPS is “Expanding Excellence.” We would all hope that our situation would allow for such an endeavor. However, given the decisions, behavior and demeanor of the systems top leadership, perhaps a more fitting motto would be “Embracing Mediocrity.” There is little evidence to support they have done anything to the contrary.

Tony Clark

Capron