07/07/08 — Two boards will meet now, ask public later

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Two boards will meet now, ask public later

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on July 7, 2008 1:46 PM

Efforts to build unity between the school board and county commission will be expanded to include parents and the community, Board of Education Chairwoman Thelma Smith says in advance of a joint meeting between the two boards.

The meeting is planned for Tuesday morning, targeting the ongoing discussion about facilities and funding.

The gathering also will include a discussion of successful efforts being made in the Durham County school system, with plans to take similar steps locally as early as the fall, Mrs. Smith said.

The presentation, featuring the Durham school board chairman and a representative from the school system, is important because it's geared toward involving the community in the conversation, she noted.

"Instead of pointing fingers, blaming and all those things that we have experienced, communication is the problem in a lot of areas," she explained. "We don't seem to be moving forward with relationships."

Durham has had "wonderful results" with its efforts, Mrs. Smith said, prompting the invitation.

"I think our board is in agreement that we want to try and do the same thing in Wayne County," she said.

Mrs. Smith is excited about the possibility for change. She described the effort as a round-table discussion to find out "what the pulse of the community is feeling."

What better way than to bring together all those who are already talking among themselves about some of the problems in the school system, she asked.

"We have concerns about graduation, for instance the venues of graduation -- sitting out in the heat -- declining enrollments, things like that," she said.

The main thing, she suggested, is to create ways to work together. But it's time to take the discussion beyond the school board and commission.

"I just believe that you can get so much done when you're communicating openly, not only confining this to our two boards," she said. "I have asked the mayor and some of his board members to come and see if we can't jointly do this as a community. We're trying to build better relationships. We're going forward."

After Tuesday's meeting, she said, plans will be made to further open up the dialogue. Once school reopens, she said she hopes to schedule the first of several public meetings.

"From what we heard from the Durham group about how they got started, they have four of them a year and each one, topics are chosen of what to discuss," she said.

Mrs. Smith said she envisions the public forums as a chance to involve parents and the public. In so doing, she said, the "stakeholders" can be engaged in the process of educating children and taking more ownership.

Area business leaders are another important piece of the puzzle, she said, and will also be invited to this week's meeting. The business group banded together over the last year and have taken a more active role in the district's education.

Building relationships and gearing up for consensus may have taken some time, the school board chairwoman says, but it's coming closer to fruition.

"I'm excited about it, and I just know it's going to work because we have seen evidence of it," she said, referring to such efforts as those in Durham.

"I do think we have the right board members at this time and we really and truly believe that this board at this time is trying to work more closely together to get more things done for this county."

Since taking over the reins at the start of the year, she said it has been her goal for the two boards to meet at least four times during the year. This will be the third such meeting, she said, and each one has proven beneficial.

"We're getting to know each other better, of course, and we're getting to learn and communicate with each other on a positive note and trying to understand the role that each other and each group plays and being appreciative of what each board has to do," she said.

"This meeting, of course, is about our agreement -- we have both approved Phase 1 and 2 for our performance contracts and taking part of the overall package, renovations and the construction of facilities."

Wayne County Manager Lee Smith said he also anticipates hearing more information on the recently approved budget, as well as an update on the district's summer school program.

He likewise credited the joint meetings for helping improve communication between the two boards.

"I attribute that to both boards and their administrative staffs coming together," he said. "It is more positive, and we are seeing things getting done."

Smith said he has also had more regular conversations lately with schools superintendent Dr. Steve Taylor.

-- Staff writer Steve Herring also contributed to this story.