08/25/04 — Dupln officials surprised at turn out school forum

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Dupln officials surprised at turn out school forum

By Bonnie Edwards
Published in News on August 25, 2004 1:57 PM

WARSAW -- Duplin County school officials said they were surprised to see such a large turnout for a forum designed to set an agenda for the schools' future.

Around 200 people split up into groups of six Tuesday night in the cafeteria of James Kenan High School and mapped out their versions of an agenda. School officials say they want to build the agenda around what matters most to the people in the community.

As the goals began to emerge, the group started to realize similar goals: responsible citizenship, life-long learning, healthy attitudes and habits, and preparedness for employment or further education.

The crowd represented a cross-section of the Duplin schools community, and that didn't happen by accident, said Debra Henzey from Raleigh, who volunteered to help with one of the discussion groups.

"I thought we'd be lucky to have 50 people," she said. "It shows the hard work the committee put into this."

Schools Superintendent Tommy Benson said he has been in the education business many years, and he's never seen 200 people gather to talk about what they want the schools to be like and what they want the graduates to be able to do when they leave school.

"I hope this is the beginning of a long dialogue between the communities and the schools," he said.

He said the information gathered from the groups will be analyzed and compiled for the schools to incorporate into their improvement plans.

The Star initiative originated in Duplin, but "it's getting statewide and national attention," said Bill Stell, the school system's director of testing. He said a woman is coming from California next week to talk to the Star group.

The forum was a success, said Ricky Ramirez, who works for the school system. Some employees from the school administration office volunteered to lead discussions, and people from other county departments helped. Students also helped lead discussions.

Ramirez, a member of the Star's Design Team that's been working this past year gathering information to plan the agenda, said he "never dreamed so many people would want to be involved."

This forum is going to be followed by others in each of the four school districts, said Dr. Paul Britt, assistant superintendent.

"So many agencies in Duplin County are affected by one or more of these goals," he said. "They belong to the community. We began to see the connections, and we invited people to come together and see if there are some relationships we can build to help each other. ... Some partners may be able to provide expertise, or some, financial support."