03/02/07 — Parents, business leaders share ideas about schools

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Parents, business leaders share ideas about schools

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on March 2, 2007 1:48 PM

Facilities are only a portion of the problem in Wayne County Public Schools, parents and business leaders said Thursday night at roundtable discussion at Lane Tree Conference Center.

Eleven parent advisers and eight community and business leaders shared their concerns and suggestions for improving the school system, with the underlying theme centering around programs and buildings.

Shelby Benton, a parent representative from Spring Creek High School, said there is no question that the school facilities in Wayne County are in dire need of improvement. But there is a need "to do more than just talk about the facilities needs," she said.

The greater concern, she said, should be "whether or not we're preparing our students for the real workforce or college, to be productive citizens."

Whether a proposed bond referendum is submitted, and subsequently passed by the community, hinges on more than the need for construction and repairs, Ms. Benton said.

"You can improve the outward appearance (of the schools), but the public will not support this without candid discussion about what will go inside the facilities," she said.

Susan Spengler, a parent representing Spring Creek Elementary, suggested that facilities and programs go hand in hand and until that is offered, the next generation's success "will be marginal at best."

"No matter where you live in the county, you should be assured that your child is being offered the same opportunities as every other child in the county," she said. "It should not be limited by the building where you attend school."

Parent involvement and advocacy is also necessary, several said.

Estella Johnson, a North Drive Elementary School parent, said there is a need for a volunteer parent group.

"How can parents help a child if the parent doesn't understand what the child is learning?" she asked. "If we can't get each and every parent into school, if we can have 20 parents there that cover 20 children ... I feel that Wayne County Public Schools would have better learning kids."

Another idea came from parent Leasa Holmes of Rosewood High School, who recommended establishing a more in-depth relationship between counselor, student and parents. If introduced when the student is a freshman, it could progressively build so that the student is better equipped by the time he or she becomes a senior.

"Have a timeline in place in addition to the existing pathway (of study) ... helping some students realize attainable goals past high school that they may not have thought of," she said.

The graduation rate -- or more specifically, the dropout rate -- was also a hot topic.

Retired community leader Jimmie Ford said the just-announced graduation rate in Wayne County, 61 percent, is unacceptable.

"What's happened to the other 39 percent?" he said. "This should be a Wayne County concern."

Parent Adrian Northington of Eastern Wayne High School said there are a number of high school students who are unprepared for the rigors of the curriculum.

"The structure of the elementary and middle schools is not meeting the needs of the diversity in Wayne County," she said. "One high school dropout is one too many. It affects Wayne County socially and economically."

She said the notion of magnet schools should be revisited.

"To move forward, the school board must be innovative and not afraid to try new ideas," she said.

From a business perspective, the school system could definitely do more to better prepare students for the workforce, several said.

Jeannie Gilchrist of APV Heat Transfer said parents and students should be made more aware of optional career choices available, not just those requiring a four-year college degree.

She said the ideal would be to "learn to value blue-collar jobs. Remove the negative perceptions for these types of jobs. Partner so that all students will know they have more choices and no one will be left behind."

Lynn Williams of the Mt. Olive Pickle Co. said many students lack the skill sets that will make them employable.

"High schools are not meeting the needs of a significant number of our students," she said.

Whether they go on to college or the workforce, she said, "We have to reorganize the structure of our high schools to be more successful."

That is not to dismiss all the good things being done in Wayne County Public Schools, she noted. But Wayne County, much like the state and nation, is struggling with this issue and the clock is ticking on resolving it.

"We have got to become one of those communities that figure it out," she said. "We have got to work together. We have got to listen to each other, and we have got to respond accordingly."

Danny Jackson of Jackson and Sons Heating and Air Conditioning said the number one challenge he faces as a businessman is recruiting workers.

"My workforce average age is getting up there and young people, for whatever reasons, are not interested in getting into the trades," he said. "I think they need to have information so they can make the right choices."

Instead of dropping out of school because they struggle academically, Jackson said he would like to see more emphasis made toward shoring up basic work skills -- dependability, honesty, qualities that business leaders seek.

If young people are not made aware that there are opportunities other than college, he said, "we're going to be in a situation where it's going to cost you more to get the air conditioner fixed or your toilet fixed than it is to go to the doctor. It's all about supply and demand. There's a great demand and a limited supply."

Unity between the school board and commissioners was another prevalent theme.

Parent Willis Underwood of Eastern Wayne High School said, "We must look at the county as a whole and not just in our own back yards."

Goldsboro High School parent SonLita Brown said there is a "lack of vision" and the "us versus them" mentality across the county must stop.

"Let's come together and offer mentors, community sponsors for our schools," she said. "We should encourage the children to strive for excellence."

If we fail as a community, she said, "then the futures of Goldsboro and Wayne County are extremely dim."

Tom Vail of Castle Manufactured Homes said there has been much discussion of late about facilities plans, but so far no consensus.

Encouraging the elected officials, he said, "You have got hard decisions to make but the only bad decision is the one you have been making the last two years -- no decision."

Darryl Woodard of Smart Choices for Youth said the future generation is watching the example being set by its leaders.

"Every day we as adults, we're losing kids to the streets," he said. "Learn how to fuss behind closed doors so that they can see us being productive."

The roundtable, which was aired live on WGBR-Radio and sponsored by Curtis Media Group, also included participation from several local media including representatives from The Goldsboro News-Argus, The Mount Olive Tribune, The Wayne-Wilson and Princeton News Leader and Time Warner Cable's News 14 Carolina.