School officials seeking 'positive' image for district
By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on October 6, 2009 1:46 PM
Wayne County Public Schools officials are setting their sights on improving the school district's image -- and they are starting with a positive attitude of their own.
Board members noted at their meeting Monday that even though the district received districtwide accreditation earlier this year and more than 90 percent of its schools made Adequate Yearly Progress and earned the system ninth place among the state's top 10 scoring systems, public perception of local education remains low.
"I think it ought to start from the top. Every meeting, not just this one, I'm going to challenge all of you board members, superintendent, leadership team, principals, teachers, everybody involved in Wayne County Public Schools, to speak positively," board member Thelma Smith said. "A lot of us have been guilty of not speaking positively. We need to be of one accord."
Mrs. Smith said it's time to set the example that the board is unified in its vision of the school system. Then, it will just be a matter of time before the public sees the same thing.
"We need to be able to lift ourselves up. We really do," she said. "We have let other people define who we are. That's our fault. There's some good things going on, and we have got to tell the story."
Board member Rick Pridgen agreed, noting that the general public does not realize how much work goes into becoming accredited.
For him, the situation came to a head late last month, after being approached by a former elected official in a restaurant.
"Basically I would say he blurted out in front of everyone, 'When are you going to do something about our schools?'" suggesting the schools were driving industry away, Pridgen said. "I don't know of a single industry that has left our county because of our schools."
Perception might be at the center of the issue, Pridgen said, but it was interesting that on the same day, a newspaper story came out with the Wayne County Chamber of Commerce's Education Council giving the district "high marks" for its recent test scores and being a drawing card for workforce and industry.
Ironically, Pridgen pointed out, another story appeared that day on the front page about a 19-year-old shot and killed on a city street.
"Crime, not education, may keep people from wanting to come here," he said. "I don't know of a single business that's been run away ... and the schools didn't do it."
Board chairman George Moye also weighed in on the issue.
"I have been saying for many, many, many years that the most attractive thing in Wayne County is our schools," he said. "That's the best thing we have got in Wayne County to attract industry to come here. But you have got to have people on board to talk about it.
"Wayne County Public Schools could be the best attraction for any industry that wants to relocate because it's truly outstanding. The powers that be just don't seem to promote our school system and give it its just billing. But it's the best thing going in Wayne County."
Board member Eddie Radford, himself a retiree from the school system, also touted the positives about the district. He praised the efforts, from the administration to the custodians and bus drivers.
Superintendent Dr. Steven Taylor said the district's accomplishments were in stark contrast to public perception.
"I'm excited that we've gone through the accreditation process. (It was) a lot of work, but I think the recognition is well-deserved," he said. "We can have individuals out there that speak negative things. We cannot control that."
At the same time, the numbers speak for themselves. Results have been very positive, even though more can always be done, Taylor said.
"We're going to meet every child equally when they walk through that door," he said.
Taylor also commended the Chamber of Commerce for working hard to promote the school system.
"While we always strive to improve, we appreciate their getting the word out," he said. "They're trying to help us tell the story. ...
"We'll get pockets of negativity out there. We're going to continue to tell the story, because at the end of the day, our job is to educate children."