06/08/07 — Wayne Commissioners get a school-eye view

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Wayne Commissioners get a school-eye view

By Matthew Whittle
Published in News on June 8, 2007 1:46 PM

Usually when the county Board of Commissioners and Board of Education get together, it is to talk about facilities and what is needed in terms of new construction and renovation. On Thursday, the two entities sat down for a different reason.

Rather than talk about the outside of the school buildings, the school system spent nearly five hours telling the commissioners about what's inside -- the academics, the special programs and the unique opportunities offered to students in Wayne County.

It was a discussion that began several weeks ago when the boards got together to begin work on setting the stage to borrow money for facility improvements.

At that time, several commissioners voiced concerns that the people of Wayne County might not support a sizable bond referendum unless they were convinced that things were going well inside the classrooms. School board member Thelma Smith responded to that by proposing what turned into Thursday's meeting.

"We've always talked about facilities. That's all we talk about when we get together," she said that night. "Let's take away the facilities for one meeting. Let us show you what we're doing. I think you will feel better about how we are spending the money if you can actually see."

And see they did on Thursday.

When the commissioners arrived at the school board office, they were immediately approached by students from several vocational programs in the county high schools -- several showing off a tractor they had restored, others doing a sample masonry project and some giving away the plants they grew in their horticulture classes. The commissioners also had the opportunity to tour the Wee Wings mobile preschool bus before going inside where still more exhibits awaited them.

"Call this a seminar," school board chairwoman Shirley Sims said. "Learn the good things about what is going and most important, the truth about what is going on.

"We hope that with this meeting you'll have fewer questions, but more information about what's going on."

It was, school Superinten-dent Dr. Steve Taylor said, a chance for a "show and tell."

"This is just scratching the surface. We have a lot of good things going on in Wayne County Public Schools," he said.

He also stressed the importance of the afternoon and the need for the commissioners to soak in all the information given to them.

"You can't go with what you hear in the grocery store, the beauty parlor and other places. You have to go with the facts," Taylor said.

Once the meeting began, the commissioners were treated to an array of presentations, including first-graders from Tommy's Road Elementary and English-as-a-second-language kindergartners and first-graders from Eastern Wayne Elementary demonstrating some of what they did in class this year.

Other reports touched on the county's preschool programs, federal mandates, grant opportunities and teacher recruitment and retention efforts.

Principals from each of the county's high schools, including the new Wayne School of Engineering and the Wayne County Early/Middle College High School, also gave presentations on subjects ranging from freshman academies and graduation projects to career academies and vocational programs.

All in all, the commissioners agreed it was an informative afternoon.

"I enjoyed it," commission Chairman John Bell said. "I'm just hoping we can keep the dialogue going."

And in the future, Commissioner Andy Anderson added that he hopes they hear more about the day-to-day operations and the day-to-day classroom experiences -- though Taylor said that kind of information could be better gained by actually visiting and spending time in the schools.

"While we learned a lot today, I think we still need a little more information on the basic things they're doing," Anderson said. "These were all above and beyond.

"I'm not being negative, I'd just like to see a little more about the overall composition of the schools and what we're doing for the average students."