08/11/09 — County manager vows to help schools

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County manager vows to help schools

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on August 11, 2009 1:46 PM

Stepping out of his role of county manager Monday night, Lee Smith made a commitment to Wayne County Board of Education to enlist an army of volunteers for the school system.

A parent himself, Smith took on the mantle after serving as a test proctor at his daughter's school in the spring. Witnessing some of the students' frustration in being able to finish the tests struck a chord with him, he said.

"It was obvious they were not going to make it," he said. "I left there very upset, very concerned. ... What I saw in talking with some of the staff was the frustration of the teachers, though they have these kids seven, eight hours a day, nine months a year."

While parents have the most important job in the world raising a child, teachers are in second position, Smith said.

"They influence our children, but they have got a disadvantage also. They become parents for eight hours a day," he said.

There's a question bandied about the county commission when challenges present themselves, the county manager said -- "What am I going to do about it?"

Smith said he took the question to heart and decided to take action.

"What I'm about to tell you is nothing new," he told the board. "It's no great idea. It happens every day."

Mentors and tutoring are needed in the school system, experts say -- to provide individual attention that the teachers often can't give.

Smith proposed the "local government volunteer partnership," starting with the county staff, volunteering and being trained for the job.

"Every one of my county commissioners have made a commitment" to do that already, Smith said. Since, a total of 30 volunteers have stepped forward.

"My goal is 100," Smith said. "I want to exceed that goal. We have all volunteered to give our time."

If it takes a village to raise a child, then who better to set the example than its leaders?

"We have to take care of our children by giving them an opportunity," Smith said, citing something he recently heard schools superintendent Dr. Steven Taylor say at a seminar -- "Children must have at least one person who believes in them."

A few volunteers will make a dent, but many can make all the difference.

Smith said he has made a commitment to "go after 100 folks," but added he is confident the number could exceed that.

In addition to the commission and county staff, he expanded his challenge to include the City of Goldsboro and outlying areas -- Mount Olive, Fremont, Pikeville -- "because everybody has a talent, to go into our schools."

It's time for the community to step up, Smith continued, because the school board cannot do it alone.

"It's put up or shut up time for this community. I mean it," he said. "We're committing our staff to take time, mentoring takes a lot of time, training. You're talking making a commitment to a child long-term."

Smith said he envisions providing training for the volunteers, and at the outset mentors will be assigned to the middle schools.

School board members were appreciative of the suggestion.

Board member Shirley Sims praised Smith's decision.

"Today you have taken the charge and the challenge. If we could get others who have made such negative comments (about the schools) ... because you're either part of the solution or you're part of the problem," she said.

Board member Thelma Smith also thanked Smith for his stance.

"What you did is what we have been trying to ask all along," she said. "We know we work hard -- our teachers, our staff, our superintendent. The next piece has been just what you told us."

Many in the community have not set foot in the schools, so can't claim to understand the problems, she said. It would be nice if they could "see for yourself" like Smith did, she said.

"By you speaking tonight, I'm sure there's going to be other groups in the area who are going to follow suit."