05/30/07 — Judge: Adults need to get out of way

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Judge: Adults need to get out of way

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on May 30, 2007 1:46 PM

The judge who will determine whether Goldsboro High School remains open said for an educational system to succeed, adults will have to get out of the way -- in the classroom, in the board room and in the community.

Superior Court Judge Howard Manning Jr. drew a crowd Tuesday when he spoke at the Goldsboro Rotary Club, among them were representatives from the Board of Education, Wayne County commission and Goldsboro City Council.

Manning's remarks centered around the politics of education. He repeatedly pointed out that educational opportunities belong to all children.

"It's not about you," he said. "(They) have the opportunity to obtain a basic sound education. It's not about the grownups.

"The problems today, in Wayne County just like (anywhere else), it's all about the politics of education and not about the people who are charged with educating. It's the little people."

By the time students complete high school, Manning said, they should be prepared to compete for 21st century jobs.

"There are no more textile mills ... no more furniture factories," he said, pointing out that skill levels should go beyond "flipping burgers or frying chicken."

That doesn't mean everybody will achieve at the same rate, Manning noted.

"Some of our kids are not as smart as other kids, but you have got to have the opportunity to learn, regardless of the circumstances you come out of."

Citing poor areas like Hoke County, the prototype school system behind the Leandro case seeking state funding for schools, Manning said lagging test scores should not be blamed entirely on poverty.

As he traveled around the state, Manning said it was not the lower economic resources that struck him. In many cases, he said he discovered pristine buildings that were in good shape. The problem, he noted, was in the quality of education.

In fact, the largest school system in the state, Charlotte/Mecklenburg, which received a larger percentage of state money per classroom, had test scores that were worse than Hoke County, he said.

"So it's not the money," he said. "Money's important but something's going wrong in that classroom if you have got all that money and have a cesspool ... and children are not being educated."

Three essentials made Manning's list of "constitutional assets" for successful schools -- competent teachers, strong principals and effective programs.

"Every classroom from pre-K to senior AP biology has got to have a certified competent teacher who knows the subject matter and more importantly in our diverse world today ... you have got to have a teacher that comes in the morning happy to see those children and knows not to just sit there as a sage on the stage, going through the motions," he said.

Manning said students will learn and excel when teachers believe in them and expect them to learn. Coupled with the right programs, outcomes will improve.

"The bottom line is what's going on in those classrooms," he said. " All it takes is to look at them and say, 'OK, I have great expectations. We're going to learn this English. We're going to learn civics, and we're going to have fun doing it.' ... These children will respond."

But it is the principal who really sets the tone at the school, in terms of both staff and student expectations, Manning said. It is the stance he has held since the debate began last year about failing schools around the state.

"One of the problems I fussed about the high schools, and we still fuss about -- I threatened to close 19 high schools and by that I meant you weren't going to have the same principal in that high school and keep it open," he said.

Manning stopped short of making predictions about his next steps, telling the News-Argus he could not comment due to the legalities involved.

"I may need to come back here," he said, pointing out that he must reserve judgment until upcoming test scores are reviewed.

He cautioned those in attendance to be aware that the decision might not be theirs if action is not taken soon.

"I tell school boards this, and I tell county commissions this. You're simply operating as an arm of the state," he said. "You're not powers that be. You serve at the pleasure of the legislature."

The tide may eventually turn, Manning said.

"One of these days it will be going to the legislature ... and they'll remove the school board. The state's going to come in and run it because if you can't come in and run it like adults, you'll have to get out."

The ones suffering most, he said, are the kids.

"That makes me mad as hell when I see adults who think they're more important. ... If you're not doing your job and your scores are bad, you need to go," he said.

Manning also predicted economic development will be another casualty in the battle.

"This county and any other county in the eastern part of the state -- you're lucky you have the Air Force here. ... You're not going to get industry in here unless you have an educated workforce," he said. "And you can't do that putting out the scores I have seen."

It starts with the community working together, he said, "and quit fussing" like adult children.

"Keep on, you won't have a community," he said. "You'll have a divided community."