School board members take their oaths of office
By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on December 7, 2010 1:46 PM
UPSTAGING GRANDPA: An amused Superior Court Judge Arnold Jones, right, prepares to swear in Arnold Flowers to the Wayne County Board of Education as Flowers' granddaughter Mallory Flowers, 3, holds the Bible.
Thelma Smith championed the role of a school board member Monday night after being elected to serve as chairperson for the upcoming year, on the heels of a swearing-in ceremony for four members of the seven-member board.
The outcome of the November election saw Arnold Flowers succeed George Moye to represent District 5, and outgoing chairman Rick Pridgen from District 6 re-elected. Running unopposed were Chris West, replacing retiring board member Dave Thomas in District 1, and incumbent John Grantham in District 4.
A fifth member, Len Henderson, had joined the board in August after being appointed by the county commissioners to fill the District 2 seat vacated by Shirley Sims when she moved to Garner in June.
Named vice chairman, Eddie Radford, himself elected in 2008, commented on the novice group.
"Four of us on this board have got two years (experience) or less," he said.
Mrs. Smith had previously led the board in 2007.
She said she was proud to have Radford serve alongside her, then welcomed the newest members.
"Where else in the world can you touch so many lives of people and have such an influence over people?" she said. "You're touching most of the households in Wayne County ... and they're going to look to you to help move this school system forward."
With an estimated 3,000 employees and more than 19,000 students in the district, it's an esteemed position to be in as a school board member, a responsibility she encouraged the group to take seriously.
"It's my wish that this board would not only be a good board but would be a great board and we can do this if we keep in mind that we represent our various districts, we represent each child, every household in Wayne County," she said. "We may sometimes disagree and we're going to do that but we don't have to be disagreeable."
Mrs. Smith said both she and Radford had a vast background in education -- she as a retired school counselor, he as a former teacher and principal -- and along with the rest of the board could have a positive influence in the community.
"If we give the leadership team the proper support, I think we can take care of some of the things our citizens are concerned about," she said. "I know they want new facilities.
"What I hear from most people -- not just from Wayne County but across this nation -- they want us to increase the graduation rate, to reduce that confounded suspension rate ... because if we keep the children in school, they can be there to learn."
Closing the achievement gap and handling whatever budgetary constraints the state hands down are also on the horizon, she said.
But the biggest contributor for a successful year will be to improve some of the statistical numbers in Wayne County. Fortunately, that is already happening, she said.
"So far as the state is concerned, we are running almost neck and neck with the state of North Carolina with our graduation rate and our dropout rate," she said. "Wayne County in the year 2009 to 2010, our graduation rate was 73.8. That's great, isn't it? The state of N.C. was 74.2. We're less than one point behind the state of N.C. Just think, if we can make a difference and add two more points."
The district is also on par with the state in the dropout rate -- 4.8 locally compared to the state's last official number of 4.2, both for 2009.
"We're still in the ballpark but we can do better," she said. "If we positively support our superintendent, the leadership team, our principals and directors, I say again, together, yes we can."
Radford said his objectives for the board were in line with those of the chairwoman -- from decreasing the dropout rate and keeping highly-qualified educators in the school to the most essential, offering children the opportunity to get a great education.
During board comment, the newest members said they looked forward to serving the district.
Flowers also paid tribute to his predecessor, George Moye, who had 22 years of service in the school system.
"I realize that who I work for is the Wayne County citizens of District 5," Flowers said. "But I work for the entire county. I feel the weight of that. I promise to do my very best."
Henderson said he is still concerned about one issue, disciplinary action in the schools.
"It appears to me that short-term suspensions is really a major issue for us," he said. "Something needs to be done about that. I have spoken with Mrs. (Allison) Pridgen about that and we plan to sit down and thoroughly assess this even more."
Henderson said he hopes to find ways to improve the numbers and has already been impressed with what some of the schools are doing to reduce the problem.
Grantham had his own recommendation.
"You need to start spanking kids again like we used to, instead of sending them home for speaking in the lunch line," he said. "I'm probably the only one here that agrees with that, but I think there are a whole lot of parents that agree with it."