09/21/11 — NAACP brings school query to county

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NAACP brings school query to county

By Steve Herring
Published in News on September 21, 2011 1:46 PM

Wayne County commissioners Tuesday morning discarded their normally stoic acceptance of public comments made during their meetings to question county NAACP education chairman Charles Wright after he declined to identify schools used in his presentation that he said illustrated "gross inequalities."

The exchange prompted Commissioner John Bell to chastise his fellow board members for deviating from their tradition of not questioning speakers.

"What is wrong with asking a question?" Commissioner Jack Best asked of Chairman J.D. Evans.

Evans said he had to abide by the rules and regulations. Best asked what the rules were.

County Attorney Borden Parker, in response to questioning by Evans, said the board's general practice was to allow people to speak, but not to ask questions of commissioners.

However, Parker said he thinks the board also has had a practice that when people raise a question to them that they can ask a question in return.

Commissioner Steve Keen said he was responding to Wright who had said he would answer any questions commissioners had. Keen said it was the first time he had seen the document and there were areas he had questions about.

Keen asked if the information Wright had provided was part of the agenda packet. He was told that it wasn't.

Keen said he was concerned about the comments and needed to ask questions.

Bell, who thanked Wright for the presentation, tried to interrupt, but Keen refused to yield the floor.

Bell complained that, "they are always trying to cut me off." Evans told Bell he would have a chance to speak and when he did, Bell was critical of board members for questioning Wright.

"All I want to say is that we have a formality. When somebody comes up here to give public comment, we don't give any questions," Bell said. "So why are you making a difference in Mr. Wright? That is what I do not understand.

"All these people come up here and make comments and we let them go. But now Mr. Wright comes up and we want to put him through all kinds of degrees."

"I didn't have questions for the other folks," Best said.

Most of the exchange took place prior to the start of the three minutes allotted to speakers, but Wright appeared concerned it would take up the time. Evans assured Wright he would still have the full three minutes. Best agreed, but pressed Wright to name the schools.

Best tried to ask another question, but Evans said that Wright should be allowed to make his presentation.

"A and B, what schools are you talking about?" Best said. "I want him to identify those schools."

Wright said he would like to identify the schools at the end of his presentation or the question period. He said that the schools were not identified during the presentation to the school board, but that he would identify the schools "off camera" and with an attachment if that was "OK."

Evans told Wright that was his prerogative.

"It might be his prerogative, but that is not fair to the public," Best said. "The public is going to want to know what schools you are talking about."

Wright said the presentation had been made before the school board last week and included 700 signatures of support. It asked the school board to take action in five areas, he said.

He said the information would be available to the media and that the presentation had been designed so as to not "ostracize" any students or to create competition between schools.

"We tried to keep the names out of it, but give you a symbolic representation and let the school system have the first crack because I am sure with all of their resources and knowledge it doesn't take long for them to know what schools are being illustrated," he said

Wright did not specify the schools during his talk, nor afterward. However, a fact sheet he provided after his comments outlined the five areas and the schools as:

* Challenging curriculum: School A (Charles B. Aycock High School) has 11 advanced placement courses while School B (Goldsboro High School) has one.

* Educational enrichment opportunities: School A (Eastern Wayne High School) has 18 and School B (Goldsboro High School) has none. It adds that Aycock has 35 such opportunities, but they had not been used because of the space it would have taken.

* Highly qualified, well-motivated teachers: School A (Eastern Wayne High School) has 33 percent of its teachers with advanced degrees and nine with National Board Certification and School B (Goldsboro) has 12 percent of its teachers with advanced degrees and two with National Board Certification.

* Fair appropriate disciplinary action: Elementary School A (Tommy's Road) 0 percent short-term suspension rate and School B (Carver Heights) 78 percent; Middle School A (Rosewood) 5 percent short-term suspension rate and School B (Mount Olive) 105 percent; High School A (Eastern Wayne) 15 percent short-term suspension rate and School B (Goldsboro) 190 percent.

* Utilizing all structural resources/classroom seats: School Attendance Area A (Aycock/Northern Wayne), 4,138 students, 772 students over capacity; School Attendance Area B (Goldsboro High/Central Attendance Area), 2,114 students, 1,544 seats under capacity.

Best said that he had been as hard on the schools as anyone.

"Here he has come and challenged the school board on specific things without telling us where he is getting his information," he said. "All I want to know is what schools he is talking about so somebody can go look at it.

"All I am asking is does High School B have the same parent participation as High School A? As we all know parent participation is very important in our school systems and if we don't have parent participation then we are not going to have the same quality of education all through the schools and we all know that."

Wright argued that saying students control their own destiny should not be included when there is a conversation about the impact of those issues in the schools. Wright said he thought that conversation had been settled in the 1960s.

"We cannot provide some children a tool box with one tool in it and other children at other schools with tool boxes with 11 or 12 tools in and then say, 'It is up to your own destiny," he said. "That flies in the face of fairness and equity and also comes up against some of our laws."

Wright said five specific areas had been looked at and that it would be impossible to look at more. The effort was to look at areas where it was felt that the school board had the most control over for improving, he said.

Wright said the data was compiled from information available to the public on the county schools' website and the state public schools' report cards for schools website.

Commissioner Sandra McCullen, who also is associate superintendent curriculum and instruction for the school system, said the same presentation had been made to the school board and that the data was not only outdated and questionable, but erroneous.

The school board is in the process of crafting a response, she said.

Mrs. McCullen said it also was her understanding the presentation was part of a proposal to the Office of Civil Rights. She was speaking of an addendum to the 2009 Title IV complaint brought against Wayne County Public Schools that NAACP officials said would be forwarded to the state's Office of Civil Rights along with the petition.