08/28/07 — Their first day with a whole new uniform

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Their first day with a whole new uniform

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on August 28, 2007 1:45 PM

Sharon Bell has worked in Wayne County Public Schools as a teacher for years, but on the first day of school this year, she was struck by a subtle change.

It was noticeable as soon as students began arriving on Monday morning, the curriculum coordinator at Dillard Middle School said.

"When we came out this morning and stood in the hallways as the students came in, it was like, 'Oh, my goodness!'" she said. "I was so inspired with the students who came in with the dress code. They had on khaki pants, nice shirts. I was just so excited."

Dillard is one of six schools in the county to adopt the "higher standard dress code," approved by the Board of Education in the spring. Surveys had been sent home earlier with the proposed clothing requirements in addition to the district's existing dress code. To pass, 70 percent of parents responding to the survey had to favor the change.

Other schools implementing the policy include Brogden Middle, Carver Heights Elementary, Goldsboro Intermediate, North Drive Elementary and School Street Elementary schools.

The existing dress code includes such guidelines as skirt and dress length, shirts and tops covering the midriff and not exposing the underarms or upper torso and not see-through; no sagging pants or visible underwear; and no oversized clothing.

The higher standard dress code takes the rules a step further. It is not a uniform in the strictest sense, with every student required to wear the same outfit, but it does have specific guidelines -- solid colors of shirts and pants, bearing no labels, graphics or embroidery; shirts must be tucked in at all times; and belts worn on pants with loops.

Ms. Bell said right away she sensed a difference in the behavior and attitude of students at her school.

"They were so much more well-behaved," she said. "This is a totally different situation. They were in line. ... We didn't have to see the sagging pants. I love it!"

Dan McPhail, principal at School Street Elementary, called the change a positive one.

"The children came in ... well-prepared, excited about what they had on," he said, noting that although the students look similar, they do not look exactly the same.

The dress code offers enough choices that students can conform without losing their individuality, McPhail said.

Parents and local retailers have helped ease the transition, he said.

"Retailers have done a really good job of bringing in clothes and making them affordable," he said. "In the long run, it's going to be less expensive."

McPhail said he thinks the new dress code will have another effect as well -- more academic success and fewer discipline problems.

Enthusiasm is also being generated among the student population.

"We have talked with some parents at open house," McPhail said. "One commented that her little girl had just about driven her crazy to wear her new school clothes."

Some even donned items to wear to the open house, held last week.

"At the parent meeting, we had, we had four or five children come up and model them," McPhail said. "Amazingly enough, they each had on the colors that were required but they were different at the same time."

Cortrina Smith, principal at Goldsboro Intermediate, said the shift has helped students to be more unified, "making Goldsboro Intermediate more of a true school."

The former Goldsboro Middle School changed its name last year and now houses fifth- and sixth-graders. Dillard Middle became home to all seventh- and eighth-graders in the central attendance area.

"This is our second year. (The dress code) has made us more definite. There's consistency throughout the school," Mrs. Smith said. "When you see the students, you can tell they have some pride about themselves ... not worrying about how they're looking."

For the most part, parents have been compliant with the policy, the educators said.

In instances of those considered out of dress code, parents were called and in most cases, the matter was quickly resolved, Ms. Bell said.

McPhail said his school had one or two pre-K parents whose children came in and were not dressed accordingly.

"Their concern was, 'What can we do?'" he said. "We suggested they send something to school or take them home and bring them back. They were cooperative."

It's going to take some time to adjust to the change, McPhail said.

"But the first day was marvelous. The children were really excited," he said.