02/14/07 — Smith: Parental involvement still key to successful schools

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Smith: Parental involvement still key to successful schools

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on February 14, 2007 1:49 PM

The hard-won fight to educate blacks must not go by the wayside, said Thelma Smith, vice chairwoman of the Wayne County Board of Education Tuesday during a program at Wayne Community College as part of Black History Month.

Amelia Hall, recruitment and retention specialist with the Basic Skills Department, said it was important to recognize the educational contributions of African Americans.

"Not only do we have many black educators in our classrooms in Wayne County, we have 12 principals and 17 assistant principals who are black and here at Wayne Community College, we have one of three vice presidents and an associate vice president who are African American," she said. "We have made great progress in education, so as we remember struggles, as we face these challenges and as we embrace tomorrow's possibilities, let us celebrate our rich heritage."

Mrs. Smith traced some of the local history, dating back to 1866 when "education for colored people began" and how 16 black men later purchased a building for that purpose. The land is now home to School Street Elementary School.

"That was the first black school in Wayne County," she said. "We hold that school close to our hearts. That's our heritage, that's our history. It might not be the same building but it's the same site."

Later came "normal schools," an extension for those going on toward college. Goldsboro had one of only 12 in the state, Mrs. Smith said, but it was decided to instead relocate it to Fayetteville.

"That later became Fayetteville State University," she said, noting that if that had not occurred, the county might today be home to "Goldsboro State University."

Four black high schools were generated in the area -- Dillard, Carver, Norwayne and Central -- and all were accredited in the early 1920s.

"It just shows you at that time that education was on the forefront of everybody's minds," she said. "Only education would help you to achieve what it was that you were looking for.

"Education was the only way out of poverty ... the only way for good jobs, to go on to college and reach new heights."

She contrasted those days, sharing how her college tuition in 1956 was $33 a month. Four years later, when she graduated, her first salary as a teacher was $178 a month before taxes.

Much is owed to parents of that era, she said. They knew an education "was the way to go."

Today, there are all kinds of tests and mandates dictating what students must achieve. And while technology has advanced rapidly, some of the basics -- like the times tables -- are still important.

Remembering the day computers were first introduced to her classroom, Mrs. Smith said she balked at the notion.

"I could see a change in the attitude of students -- if it's already laid out for me, why sweat it?" she said. "They give you a calculator to take your math test, so why should I have to learn the times tables?"

Parental involvement is also totally different than it was 50 years ago. It is one of the biggest challenges currently faced by the Wayne County Board of Education, she added.

"Parents knew that education was the way, it was your freedom. Parents today -- OK," she said, pausing to gather her thoughts. "But I don't think they're quite that excited.

"I'm not talking about every parent, but there are some parents who don't value the education simply because they didn't pursue an education."

Home used to be the most important place in a child's life, followed by the school, then church and maybe the community, in that order, Mrs. Smith said.

"Somewhere in the mid-80s it started to change. The home sort of moved down a little bit, peers started to move up," she said. Children are more influenced today by media and peers than parents, school and church.

"School is way down for most of them. Church is way at the bottom for many of them."

And yet parental involvement is perhaps the only area that can't be legislated, she said.

"If the school doesn't meet No Child Left Behind, the principal gets fired. Teachers are slack or don't reach benchmarks, they get fired or put on an action plan, schools can be taken over by the state of North Carolina, the superintendent is accountable," she said.

"But nobody has said anything to the parents about getting these children ready to come to school to learn ... So all we can do is try to appeal to the parents."

Fifty years ago, she said, the only time one would see anybody standing on a corner was if they were likely waiting for someone to take them to work.

"I see too many young men on the street corners or sitting on porches with nothing to do and it just pains my heart," she said.