08/11/10 — School chief meets with Duplin leaders, community

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School chief meets with Duplin leaders, community

By Catharin Shepard
Published in News on August 11, 2010 1:46 PM

KENANSVILLE -- Members of the Duplin County Board of Education and Board of Commissioners met informally Tuesday night with other local officials, community leaders and business supporters to discuss the school system's future.

The input meeting was a forum for Superintendent Austin Obasohan to solicit comments on the issues the system is facing, as a part of his work developing a strategic plan for the county's schools.

Obasohan spoke strongly in favor of working together with the community as a whole to accomplish the goals of keeping up with the educational demands of the 21st century and reducing the dropout rate.

"We are losing so many children, we cannot lose any more," he said.

Preparing students for college also needs to be a significant priority, because moving into the future, "a high school diploma is not going to cut it anymore," Obasohan said.

After an opening statement, the superintendent opened the floor to comments from the audience.

Several teachers and retired teachers in attendance said one of the biggest issues they struggled with was being required to focus on tasks that took their attention away from instructional time and their students.

County Commissioner Frances Parks, a former teacher, commented that many children seem to have lost the passion for going to school.

"We have to turn kids on to education," she said.

Commissioner David Fussell commented on his concerns regarding the lawsuit judgment and school funding issue that has still not been settled.

"There is not a single commissioner that's on our board that doesn't have his heart in education," he said.

However, the $4.8 million jury award is "an albatross around your neck," and a major concern for taxpayers and businesses in Duplin County Fussell told Obasohan.

"It is not in the past yet," he said.

Obasohan asked the school board at its last meeting for 30 days to study the judgment situation and to provide a recommendation to the board.

Commission Chairman Cary Turner spoke in support of pursing additional opportunities to get useful technology into the county's schools.

"I'd like to see a focus on getting technology, smart boards, in our classrooms," he said, referencing the electronic blackboards at some Duplin County schools.

Commissioner Harold Raynor also spoke about the need for a positive working relationship between teachers and the principals of their schools. Some teachers have expressed to him that they "dislike their principal with a passion," he said.

Resolving concerns regarding how the central office uses funding in the schools is also important, Raynor added.

Economic Development Director Heather Beard told the superintendent that school test scores have an impact on business in the county, particularly when a business is deciding whether to locate or expand to Duplin County. It factors into the standard of living in a county that businesses consider when looking to set up shop, she said.

"They want to see the county meeting the state standards," Ms. Beard said.

County Manager Mike Aldridge offered his help, and that of his staff, in greasing the wheels between the two boards. The county and school board administrative staff members have always worked well together, he said.

"I pledge myself to do that in any way I can," Aldridge said.

Sheila Young, president of the Wallace Chamber of Commerce, suggested that it is important to get children involved in civic functions at the chamber and other organizations in the county as part of a good education foundation.

Obasohan noted the comments and said he was thankful for the opportunity to call on the county's leaders for input, and excited for the school system and county's future.

"The better our school system becomes, the better our community becomes," he said.

The superintendent said he wants to be held accountable for improving the schools, and hopes that the community members will hold each other accountable in pursuing that goal.

"What we have started here, we'll finish," Obasohan said.