04/24/09 — Officials on Best comments: Misleading

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Officials on Best comments: Misleading

By Steve Herring
Published in News on April 24, 2009 1:46 PM

Comments earlier this month by Commissioner Jack Best about the school system's support staff might have been well-intended, but still misinformed, said Dr. Craig McFadden, assistant superintendent for accountability and student services.

Best also was taken to task by Commissioner Sandra McCullen, an associate superintendent for curriculum and instruction for the school district, who voiced concerns about "negative press" given to the schools based on quotes from county commissioners and Goldsboro City Council members. The comments, she said, do not reflect the attitude of the entire board.

Best said he had received a number of phone calls over the past couple of weeks from people who, like him, are concerned about education.

"No one on the board has any more regard for education than I do," he said.

McFadden said Best's comments "make about as much sense as going out to Seymour Johnson and putting all of the personnel in the cockpit. It takes a support system to put those airplanes in the air and it takes the support system to operate the schools, especially for students with special needs."

McFadden was referring to comments made by Best at the commissioners' April 7 session about the school board's decision to move students from Goldsboro Intermediate School to create room for staff.

Best suggested that if the school system had so many administrators and guidance counselors that additional space was required, staff members could be utilized as reading mentors in the lower grades.

McFadden used the remarks as a preface to a presentation about the county's Exceptional Children Department.

"The staff moving into Goldsboro Intermediate School was erroneously referred to as administrators and guidance counselors," McFadden told commissioners. "Actually there are only three administrators and no guidance counselors, who by the way are among the hardest-working and most dedicated people in the school system, are moving into Goldsboro Intermediate. Most of the staff moving into the school work in the exceptional children's programs."

Reading from a prepared statement Mrs. McCullen said, "It has been said that everybody knows how to run a school system because everyone attended school at some point in time. Yet, I wonder what people truly hope to achieve when they continue to criticize.

"I would like to call upon the pundits of the school system, such as my colleague, Mr. Best, to become more knowledgeable about the education topics he speaks about before making hurtful comments about our students, teachers, student support staff, and yes, our administrators. Opinions are often stated with inaccurate data and misleading facts."

She said Best has indicated that "rigor and relationships" do not mean anything. Mrs. McCullen said she disagreed

"Today, I want to call on the leadership of this board of commissioners and the Goldsboro City Council to show courage and fortitude as we face not only the issue of quality education for all students in the public school system, but to truly reach out to the board of education to develop consensus about what the greater good is for all Wayne County students."

Mrs. McCullen noted that Wayne County is a low-wealth county where roughly 65 percent of public school students live in poverty as defined by the federal government.

She cited the county's comprehensive plan that calls for cooperation among the different governmental entities including joint meetings with "constructive dialogue and mutual understanding" as a basis for action.

Best said he agreed with about 90 percent of what Mrs. McCullen had said.

"There is no question the school system we have has been almost 60 percent perfect," he said. "It's the 40 percent we keep talking about I am concerned about. We keep talking about relationships. They are important in business, but in the school system reading, writing and arithmetic are the basis for education. We need to get back to some of that.

"But the problem is in Wayne County is that we have a tremendous amount of people who graduate from a Wayne County high school with a diploma who cannot continue their education because of their reading skills."

Best said his comments were simply meant as a suggestion and that he is ready to listen to Mrs. McCullen's "people."

Mrs. McCullen said the school system has number of longer, more-detailed presentations. She told commissioners to get their questions to her and she would do her best to ensure they are answered.

Best said that he also was trying to get people to think about "different ideas."

"We have got to teach these kids who don't have the two parents or don't have a parent or one of these (school) folks here today to push them to read," he said. "We have to either get to them in the school system and teach them how to read, teach them how to do a job where they can raise a family and have a future or put them in jail and they can be wards of the state. Education is fairly cheap compared to incarcerating them or keeping them up for the rest of their lives."

Both Best and Commissioner John Bell responded to Mrs. McCullen comments about the merger of the city and county school systems.

"You talk about merger, and yeah we merged, but the reality is that the county never merged with the city and left it the same," Best said.

"The only thing that bothers me is that this board has been a little reluctant to say anything or make comments because it offends people on elected boards like the school board," Bell said. "All we are saying here, in my opinion, is asking a question because I want to know.

"It appears every time this board makes a comment it gets a call from another board questioning what you said. As an elected official you have a responsibility to state or take a position that you feel is necessary to get the job done. Mrs. McCullen, in your statement you talked about the City Council and county commissioners, but you did not include the school board as being negative toward them along with other boards. I think that is what the problem is."

Bell said he had suggested years ago that each boards should pull off their respective robes and "sit down and get the job done" rather than depending on the media "to tell each other what we think. I would welcome the boards sitting down and talking frankly across the table from each other and figuring out how to make this thing move."

Speaking to the topic of school merger, Bell said, "I don't ever understand how the central attendance area will ever be able to move forward when you have the same demographics of people going from kindergarten all the way to high school. That is the thing that bothers me."