05/07/10 — Talking about schools: Participants call for parental involvement

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Talking about schools: Participants call for parental involvement

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on May 7, 2010 1:46 PM

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Patsy Faison, principal of Tommy's Road Elementary School, speaks during the Raising Achievement and Gaps Task Force informational session and Kitchen Table Conversation at Millers Chapel AMEZ Church on Thursday night.

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Those in attendance at the Raising Achievement and Gaps Task Force informational session follow on their statistical work sheets during the forum.

The school system's final Kitchen Table Conversation for the year was perhaps its most spirited, with parents rallying for the dialogue to continue and vowing to be part of a movement toward getting more parents involved.

The topic was "Empowering the Male Student," a continuation of the previous Kitchen Table Conversation, held in December.

An estimated crowd of 40 attended Thursday night's event, this time at Millers Chapel AMEZ Church, located near the eastern district schools.

The session started out with school officials addressing questions that had been submitted in advance.

Superintendent Dr. Steven Taylor gave a status report on future facility plans for Wayne County Public Schools.

The same $300 million facility plan submitted by the Board of Education several years ago is still waiting to be implemented, he said.

"The problem is, we have a beautiful plan, but no money to fund it," he said. "The Board of Education does not have tax control. We have to work this through the county commissioners."

Fortunately, some of the state's lottery money, targeted for education, helped with at least three projects, he said. The cafeteria was renovated and a bus parking lot completed at Mount Olive Middle, while four classrooms and faculty restrooms were added at Greenwood Middle and the cafetorium at Brogden Primary School is nearly finished.

Two other projects -- Eastern Wayne and Norwayne middle schools -- have stalled but hopefully will be brought back to the forefront soon.

"Probably around October, November, if the economy has turned, things are looking good, then maybe we can move forward," Taylor said. "It's going to cost around $13 million to get those projects out of the way."

There are other goals the district would like to pursue, to offset overcrowding issues in some of the schools, Taylor said. But such things cost "big bucks" and will take some time to accomplish.

Ideally, the district would like to add four new schools -- Spring Creek Middle, Grantham Middle, a new elementary school and a new middle school, both in the northern end of the county. Additional classrooms at Spring Creek Elementary would also help, Taylor said, as the school is currently at maximum capacity.

Another priority would be the addition of 20 classrooms at Charles B. Aycock High School, now the largest high school in the district. And at some point, he added, officials would like to replace the Meadow Lane Elementary School facility, one of the older schools in the county.

Otherwise, the superintendent said, the district is working hard to handle needs as they come up, in the form of "deferred maintenance." There are typically a laundry list of projects at each school, just as homeowners have to do routine maintenance on their property.

To kick off the public forum, where attendees divided into small groups to discuss the evening's topic, Olivia Pierce, executive director of community relations, shared what the district is already seeing in terms of disparities between males and females.

The aggregate data, for grades 3-8, was taken from last year's end-of-year tests, she said -- where 5.2 percent more females scored higher on reading tests and 3.6 percent more females scored higher on math tests.

High school findings were divided. In Algebra I, 2.3 percent more females scored higher, while in Algebra II, 2.75 percent more males scored higher. In chemistry, 5 percent more females scored higher and 5.5 percent more females scored higher in physical science, while males dominated in physics -- 11.5 percent higher -- and in U.S. history, where 5.6 percent more males scored higher.

Groups attributed some of the problem to home environment, peer pressure and the need for more male teachers. Other contributing factors mentioned included lack of an adult male in the home, poverty and lack of parental involvement.

"The boys don't seem to respond to a standard teaching environment as well as the girls," said Anissa Jackson, an Eastern Wayne Elementary School parent. "They're more interested in sports, girls are more interested in pleasing the teacher. So we need to get the boys to that level, too."

Parental involvement can sometimes be difficult for adults who themselves did not have a positive experience when they were in school, said Cathy Eubanks, principal at Eastern Wayne Middle School. She said her staff makes a concerted effort to create a better relationship between home and school.

Class size was also mentioned as a deterrent to an ideal learning environment for male students, Mrs. Jackson said.

"(Classes) are too large," she said. "Teachers can't give enough attention."

"And what (is the state) talking about? Increasing class sizes. Is that going to keep teachers?" responded Patsy Faison, principal at Tommy's Road Elementary School and facilitator for the evening. "But we're going to do the best we can."

The most glaring strategy to address underachieving male students in the school might also be the most challenging to implement, some said.

Greenwood Middle School parent Lem Wagstaff's group recommended parental involvement be made a mandatory thing.

"We're going to increase parental participation," he said. "We're going to require or ask the parents to spent a certain amount of time in the classrooms during the school year, so that they can observe their child and other children."

Perhaps it should be part of the graduation requirements or tied into the child's progression for his grade level, Wagstaff said.

In some schools, where parents sign a contract to support their child in school, Mrs. Jackson said it could prove helpful in encouraging parents to live up to their responsibility.

"You need to be involved in your child's life, in your child's education," she said.

Scott Edwards, a Tommy's Road Elementary parent, said he is fortunate to be able to serve as a volunteer, suggesting that perhaps other employers could also encourage that.

"Get businesses to support the school system, allow the dads to get away or moms to get away, draw the local businesses into the school system," he said.

Mrs. Faison said there is much to be done, and parents could definitely play a larger role in the schools.

"We need more help from the parents," she said. "Would you be willing to be a parent advocate group, where you could go to all four corners of this county and advocate for this?"

"Sign me up," Wagstaff said.

"It's going to be a radical move. It's going to take something different," Mrs. Faison said.

"We have got to get into the mindset that we're going to handle our own problems and quit shoving our problems off to the government, to the education board," Wagstaff said. "If we can't keep our children in school, what are we going to do? So, sign me up for that committee."

This was the last public forum for the year, but the group consensus was that similar events should be held in the future.

Results from Thursday night's session will be compiled and posted on the district website, www.waynecountyschools.org, and printed copies will be available at the central office on Royall Avenue.