01/28/07 — Now Advocating for performance

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Now Advocating for performance

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on January 28, 2007 2:03 AM

No citizen in the low-wealth community would oppose building new schools "if they are needed," says one local advocacy group, touting the urgency to first focus on raising student achievement levels.

Advocates of Goldsboro and Wayne County was organized in 2000 to keep proactive watch on issues and actions affecting the community. Recent actions by the Wayne County Board of Education have prompted their efforts to be focused in that direction.

Ulis Dawson, one of the group's founders, said the latest discussions about a possible $90 million facilities plan and bond referendum have caused concerns.

"The full details and involvement of a $90 million bond referendum have not been adequately justified and presented to the public in a comprehensive manner," Dawson said. "We strongly support education for our children, but in a manner that is affordable to the taxpayers who will bear the financial burden."

That is not to say the group is against new schools, he noted. The concern centers around affordability of such a plan.

"People who are going to have to pay for it through taxes need to know as much as possible," he said. "I do not think that the $90 million that has been talked about is going to be enough to do what needs to be done."

Advocate Neal Stitt said the tax burden would be especially crippling to those who live in the city.

"City residents pay dual -- city and county taxes -- and (it) would be quite a burden on them," he said.

The greater need right now goes beyond new school buildings, the group says.

"The main focus of any educational system should be the achievement of its students," Advocate Shirley Edwards said. "I believe that any school system should have its main premise as the achievement of all students."

"It seems to me that we have to work toward adequately educating all of our students, and I think emphasis should be placed on all students," Dawson said.

"Too many students are performing below set achievement goals and the dilemma affects our economy. Twenty of our 31 schools did not reach the expected goal."

Likewise, what has happened with Goldsboro High School should be a concern to all the citizens of Wayne County, Dawson said.

"We must not forget that the problems of Goldsboro High School are a Wayne County problem," Ms. Edwards said. "We're talking about pulling together a county that looks at all its needs. We will not be able to advance in the future if we don't come together."

Advocate Jimmie Ford applauded Goldsboro High's recent addition of the Granville Academy, a program to introduce students to business and industry.

"If they follow the concept, it will begin to turn their lives around," he said. "I think it's a good beginning of the things that are going to come. I think it needs to be contiguous, though. It needs to operate throughout Wayne County schools."

One of the keys is assessment, Ms. Edwards said -- look at where students are failing and make necessary changes.

"Every child is not going to be an Einstein but every child has a gift," she said. "Prepare a system to meet the needs of every child."

Instead of targeting money toward a facilities plan, it could be wisely invested in increased salaries for qualified teachers to motivate and teach children to be successful, Dawson said.

"Public schools once prepared children for academic and vocational careers. ... Today we are plagued with low achievement, dropouts, drugs, teen pregnancy, false fingernails, wigs, baggy pants, tight jeans and exposed midriffs," he said. "There must be reasons that our school administrators, board members and parents are overlooking. There must be solutions that teachers can guide us to see."

In a nutshell, Dawson suggested revamping the education system. The basics -- comprehensive reading, writing and math skills -- should be taught in the first four years of a child's schooling. The next two years should incorporate social living and general science, he said.

By the seventh year, a child should be able to make either an academic or vocational choice that will unfold in high school, when vocational training and higher level courses will be made available -- college training for some, a sound, respectable vocational career for others.

Parents and businesses could be partners, with guidance counselors directing the children on the right path, Dawson said.

"Following such a program, children will have the necessary skills to be productive citizens and supportive family members, and our tax dollars would be wisely used to attract industries that would provide jobs for the preservation of our economy," he said.

Blame is not on the agenda, the group says.

"I don't put this problem of education squarely in the laps of the Board of Education," Ms. Edwards said. "It's every citizen's problem."

In fact, the school board as well as other governing bodies will be important components if anything is going to be implemented.

"I think we're on the road to that," Still said. "It starts with people at the top, the superintendent, the Board of Education and so forth."

Having a former educator at the helm of the school board this year could make a big difference, he added.

"I'm not saying it because she's black," Stitt said. "(Shirley Sims) is an educator. I believe that supporting her in her efforts -- that high achievement being the thing that the entire public should do -- along with school administrators, the board and everyone. ... I believe we're going to see a new focus in our school system."

The important thing is to get the information into the right hands so it can be implemented, Dawson said.

"We hope to serve in many ways as a catalyst," Advocate Fred Shadding said. "We know we don't have all the answers. ... We will raise our voices if we have the facts, but we don't want to do lip service."

Historically, the Advocates have found the school board, county commission and city council to be receptive to their suggestions.

"I think it's the manner and approach that we take it," Dawson said. "We haven't had to argue and fuss and demonstrate."

The group hopes such relationships will continue as the Advocates determine to build bridges with the various governing bodies.

"The bridges are still wobbling, but they're better than they were," Shadding said.