Tuesday’s School Board meeting was full of both celebration and heated discussion, lasting long into the night. Called to order at 6pm, the meeting began with a celebration of the excellence in the WS/FC School System with honors being bestowed on the year’s best Teacher and Principal, as well as recognition of student art competition winners, and National Blue Ribbon School winner Whitaker Elementary School.
Meadowlark Middle School students Matthew Bullard and Vignesh Gopalan were recognized for winning the PENC Young Artist Competition. Both young men’s winning art was displayed on the monitors as they were brought on stage for acknowledgement. It is notable that art entries from Meadowlark Middle School were also chosen as the Judges’ Choice winners at the Dixie Classic Fair this year, a fact presented by Superintendent Martin during the “Going the Extra Mile” segment of the meeting.
Kim Abrams, a 6th grade Math and Science teacher at Jefferson Middle School, was formally acknowledged as WS/FC Schools Teacher of the Year. Tears ran down Abrams’ face as she was praised for the contributions she has made to the lives of the students and the staff at Jefferson Middle. Those contributions included believing in the potential of each student, inspiring students, and mentoring new teachers.
Nora Baker of Jefferson Elementary School was recognized as the Principal of the Year. Baker was commended by her teachers for her ability to listen, give thoughtful answers and follow up on her commitments. Recognized for her philosophy that “just good enough is not enough”, she was also complimented on her practice of always trying to remember what it is like to be the teacher and the parent as she leads her staff and supports the families they teach.
Whitaker Elementary School Principal Brenda Herman accepted a large, clear, engraved award commemorating Whitaker’s recognition as a National Blue Ribbon School. Whitaker was one of only 8 schools in North Carolina and 269 schools nationwide to be recognized as a National Blue Ribbon School. More than 20 teachers, teaching assistants, and staff members were present and acknowledged for their role in achieving this high honor. Whitaker has been repeatedly been recognized as an Honor School of Excellence, and for the 2011-2012 school year had greater than 95% of students at or above grade level based on End of Grade tests.
Walkertown Middle and High Schools were highlighted in the School Presentation section of the meeting, with a video being shown that included teachers, students, administrators, programs and facilities in the newly opened schools. The show choir from the Middle School gave a live performance, and was then joined by the High School chorus to sing the high school song.
Superintendent Martin announced participation in Time Warner Cable’s Connect to Compete initiative. Students in nineteen schools in the WS/FC School System will be eligible to receive a free modem and hookup for internet services, and access to the internet in their home for a reduced fee of $9.95 per month. Time Warner Cable is connected to this nation-wide initiative that is providing reduced-fee internet access to students who attend one of 600 schools in low-wealth neighborhoods across 23 cities.
The meeting then opened for Public Comment. Seventeen citizens spoke in this period, with 15 addressing the proposed adoption of Systems Thinking as a tool to aid in the implementation of Common Core Curriculum, and 2 addressing discipline policies. Comments on Systems Thinking ranged from high praise for the tools from Principals and Teachers currently trained in and utilizing the concepts, to opponents who used terminology such as American Exceptionalism, Socialism and New Age religion in their arguments against Systems Thinking implementation district-wide. The comment period on this topic, as well as Board member discussion of this item, was so lengthy and volatile that it will be addressed more fully in a separate article to follow.
Two members of the public did address discipline policy during the comment period. Ann Petitjean, president of the Forsyth County Association of Educators, presented the results of a NCAE survey of teachers which asked them to rank their issues as a teacher. Out of nearly 500 tabulated surveys, the issues were ranked 1-4 as pay, time, class size and discipline. Petitjean asked for continued dialogue on the discipline policy to include teachers and staff and take into account “building specific” issues related to discipline. Yvonne Williams, VP of the FCAE and faculty member at Parkland High School, made 3 requests of the Board – Listen, teachers are saying that the current policy sometimes prevents them from being able to teach the other students in the classroom; Talk, need a committee or task force of Board members, administrators and teachers to discuss changes needed; and Accept our Invitation, continue to visit classrooms and talk to educators.
Discussion Items on the Board’s agenda included the previously mentioned heated discussion on the topic of Systems Thinking, as well as a presentation and discussion on the newly adjusted policy regarding the Community Involvement Program (CIP), a report on substance abuse policy and figures, and an update on Alternative Learning Centers and In School Suspensions. This was followed by a report from Buddy Collins regarding the Building and Grounds Committee.
CIP is an alternative education program for those students who have been expelled or suspended from traditional settings. The program was previously only voluntary, and students participating were not able to stay active in the NCWISE system that records student activity. Now students can remain active in NCWISE, continue to work toward meeting their educational requirements for graduation or promotion to the next grade, and work with community partners to engage in service opportunities that allow them to meet requirements for recommendation back into the traditional educational settings. Changes to the policy have resulted in the staff for CIP now including a coordinator, 2 certified teachers, an instructional assistant and a social worker. The program also now has lunch prepared by WS/FCS and continues to provide bus passes for those students who are not car riders or walkers. Students in the CIP have their day divided into classes that focus on life skills, academic skills, mandated community volunteer time and the opportunity to work with a social worker to address the behaviors that resulted in their need for the program.
Board member Vic Johnson commended the Board on this new policy, stating that when he became a Board member, there was a zero tolerance policy for regarding discipline issues, resulting in many children being unable to access education because of behavioral issues. Johnson said “our philosophy now is to try to keep kids in school as long as we can, and we’re doing a tremendous job with it.”
As a part of the report from the Buildings and Grounds Committee, Buddy Collins gave an update on the RJ Reynolds High School stadium efforts. Collins stated that the B&G committee and WS/FCS staff are “working with the Children’s Home, the Save Our Park folks, and the Home Field Advantage folks in trying to broker an agreement that will make everyone happy.”
No timetable was declared for a vote on the issue, but Collins stated that “we want to make sure before we vote on this stadium deal that there is not a better alternative that we’ve not overlooked, and some of the members of both sides of this issue have requested that we engage other stakeholders in this discussion. So by the next Buildings and Grounds meeting in November, we should have a much better understanding of exactly what the alternatives are.”
The meeting then moved to Action Items. After an opinion laden discussion as to the specifics of the motion and several qualifiers being added to it, the motion to continue with the planned professional development training session on Systems Thinking for the summer of 2013, as well as the continued implementation of the tools in classrooms currently utilizing the system was passed by a 7-2 vote (with Jeannie Metcalf and Buddy Collins opposing.) The Board then unanimously agreed to name the football field at Mount Tabor High School after Bob Sapp, and the computer lab at the Education Building for C.L. Marshall.
Other Items passed included incorporating Honors Arts classes into the curriculum beginning next year, a budget amendment and transfer of funds, approving Lottery proceeds allocated to the district to pay for debt service incurred by past bond referendums and disposal of surplus vehicles. Also approved was a construction agreement with the NCDOT regarding a road project needed for a new elementary school being built in Zone 1 and a contract with the YMCA of Northwest North Carolina to provide various services, mostly related to swimming pools and after school care.
The next School Board meeting will be Tuesday, October 23rd at 6pm at the Education Building at 4801 Bethania Station Road in Winston-Salem.