05/21/06 — Sharing thoughts on fixing schools

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Sharing thoughts on fixing schools

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on May 21, 2006 2:09 AM

RALEIGH -- After a day talking with representatives from other schools on Judge Howard Manning's "hit list" that face possible closure, a contingent from Goldsboro High School returned with a common message -- they're not alone in trying to fix the problems facing their school.

Saturday's six-hour workshop, "Connecting Communities for Student Success," was sponsored by the N.C. Association of Educators and the Foundation for Public School Children and was at NCAE headquarters.

Seventeen of the 19 schools targeted by Judge Manning were invited to attend, NCAE representative Angela Farthing said. In addition to the group from Wayne County, there were representatives from Guilford County, Charlotte, Winston-Salem, Halifax and Plymouth.

The NCAE had suggested the teams from each school include administrators, students, teachers, parents and community leaders. Goldsboro's group went one step further and included members from its feeder schools, Dillard and Goldsboro middle schools.

The day featured group sessions as well as breakout sessions in which administrators, educators, students, parents and community leaders could meet with their counterparts from other schools and communities. There was also a panel discussion over lunch, with materials provided for assisting school systems in developing stronger family, school and community partnerships.

Each group also left with a tool kit to help in providing strategies for follow-up activities and information about possible grants.

NCAE President Eddie Davis said the day was an opportunity for school supporters to share ideas and find there are similarities in their problems.

It was a chance "to extend the conversation about how we can improve our schools across the state, how we might be able to improve the level of communication in our schools," he said.

Fred Shadding, a retired educator from Goldsboro, said one of his group's goals was to determine whether the schools are reaching out to families.

"The other side of the coin was, are our families in the community reaching out to the schools? We discussed just what needs to be done so that we can come to some point whereas the so-called intimidation that the parents feel with discussing things with the teachers. There's a level of mistrust that needs to be addressed," he said.

He called the workshop beneficial.

"We're not on our own, isolated. We have the same problems in the state and in the nation," Shadding said. "Maybe these 19 schools need to create some dialogue. Maybe they have an edge that we can share because we're dealing with the same things. We all have the same problems; we're all reaching out."

Wayne County Board of Education member Thelma Smith said dialogue between the affected schools would provide "strength in numbers."

Along the same lines, school board member Rick Pridgen said he was impressed with a suggestion to create a computer link between the troubled schools to share positive experiences and discuss common concerns.

"We're not the only ones. We're all mirrored in different parts of the state. Establish a network in those schools," Pridgen said.

Goldsboro High School Principal Pat Burden said her meeting had nearly two dozen administrators, some in worse situations than Goldsboro High.

"It puts it in perspective," she said.

"I felt like I was in a good session. One of the things that came out was not something I did not know, but reinforcement. It was actually something I did in my first year at Goldsboro High -- we called it a 'chat with the principal' for the housing developments."

Six such meetings were held, she said. And they seemed to make a difference. Burden said she plans to implement them again in the next school year.

"I think it's time that we go back to the community rather than for them to come in to us. Go into the residential areas, talk with parents, become better aware of the needs or expectations there and to share them."

Marvin McCoy, the principal at Dillard Middle School, said there are differences and challenges being faced by the school system, which should prompt school leaders to seek creative solutions.

"Having a parent to show up is one thing, but to educate them on the issues, on the educational process, that's another," McCoy said. "So we have to do most innovative ways to educate them and get them to see how they fit in the puzzle."

Mollie Renfrow-Mitchell is the parent of a Dillard Middle School student. "Parents are a component in the schools to help it be successful. They encourage students so that they can be successful when programs are in place," Ms. Renfrow-Mitchell said.

She said she was pleased with the chance to meet with others experiencing situations similar to Goldsboro's.

"It does help you feel that you're not alone. You get ideas, fresh ideas and how you need to change things," she said.

Ms. Renfrow-Mitchell said she planned to share the message with others here.

"The school goal is to target more parents. I'll share the information individually to every parent that I come in contact with, and I'm pretty sure (Principal McCoy) is going to put me in a meeting to share."

In the student group session, members tried to define the problem their schools are facing, as well as ways to solve the problem, said Rashad Hinnant of the Goldsboro High Student Government Association.

He said the day proved encouraging, and that he came away feeling that Goldsboro is "making those necessary steps toward improving."

The experience also provided a lot of important useful information, he said, "that I believe I can go back to Goldsboro High School and share with the rest of the student body."

Most importantly, he said, was the realization that Goldsboro is not so unique.

"You're able to realize it's not just us. When we all got in there and started talking, we were going through some similar situations," Hinnant said. "It was kind of a relief. You're not going through this by yourself."