APRIL 30, 2015
State Dept. of Education is now considering Lawrence as a “model district”, Fletcher says
by Jennifer Ferguson
Lawrence County Community Days meeting was held at Blaine Elementary School Thursday. Hosted by Superintendent Robbie Fletcher, Community Days is designed as an opportunity for both Fletcher and the LC District Administrative Team to spend the day with students and staff, visiting schools and community partners and hearing from parents. Each day ends with a Town Hall style meeting where school staff and the public can ask questions and share thoughts or ideas. I was fortunate to be able to attend this meeting as not only a reporter for the Lazer, but as a parent of two children that attend Blaine Elementary School. To better inform readers of the details of the meeting, I will be writing this from my perspective as a parent.
As I arrived at the school prior to the meeting my first thoughts were, “Where is everyone?” Other than Fletcher and the administrative staff, the only people present besides me were the school guidance counselor Katina Ward, school Principal Shawn Jennings and two other parents. You would think an opportunity to voice your opinion, ask questions and be heard would draw a crowd especially when it comes to something as crucial as our children’s education.
However, I guess I shouldn’t have been too surprised. In the days prior to the meeting my reporter instinct had me asking several parents if they had planned to attend. The response I got was all the same, “I don’t even know what it is. They don’t care what I say. It’s not like it’s going to make a difference.” So, nosy me had to make an appearance just to see if any of the speculation was true. It wasn’t. While I expected a stuffy, formal type of meeting, I was met with just the opposite. It was basically a small group of people engaging in a conversation all with one goal in mind: How can we improve our school to provide the children with the highest quality of education possible?
Fletcher began the meeting by asking simple questions that he had also asked the staff in a prior meeting. “What are things you like about the school that we need to continue?” and “What are things you feel need improvement?”
While at first I thought the answers to these questions would be useless and serve no purpose, Fletcher was able to give several examples of ideas and suggestions that came from other Community Days meetings and are now being used in our schools. One of which being the buzzer systems that were recently placed at the entrance of all schools to improve security. That is something that generated from requests at parent involved meetings to help improve the schools.
While I bragged on the Blaine Hoops program, an intramural basketball league, another parent said she really liked the Google Snow Bound Learning days the district had participated in over the winter.
The Hoops program has allowed students to not only learn the basic skills and fundamentals of the game, but also to interact with other students and focus on team work. Parents agreed that the program really helped prepare students to be able to participate in activities when they reach high school. Ideas were also discussed to hopefully bring other opportunities to students such as football or baseball and plans are already in the works for a soccer league in the fall.
Thanks to the Google Classroom days and intervention from the state, students last day of school is now scheduled for May 28 as opposed to near the end of June. Fletcher informed us that our district had done so well in participating in the days, the state is now considering us a “model district” and has asked administrators to come and speak to the state legislature and other districts about implementing the same programs. I was amazed, little ol’ Lawrence County has became a “model” for others and we, as parents were part of making that happen by encouraging and helping our kids to complete the work the teachers took time to assign. Not to mention, the extra summer vacation days make anyone smile!
When it came to improvements, we parents were a bit more hesitant to respond. No one likes to step on anyone’s toes or put people down, but…as with any school or program, there is always room for improvement.
I questioned a recent rumor I had heard that BES would be losing their school nurse for the next school year.
Unfortunately, Fletcher confirmed that while it was still waiting board approval, it was true. The district is being forced by the state to cut their budget by $400,000 in order to balance out. Out of the seven nurses our district currently employs, only two will remain for the upcoming school year. By eliminating those positions, the board will be able to save two teaching positions. In addition, there will also be one teaching position eliminated and the dental coverage provided to staff will no longer be available saving $60,000.
While I understand the budget cuts and I even understand that it’s out of the board’s control, I can’t help but wish whoever from the state that makes these decisions would send their child to BES for one day, let them get sick or experience a medical emergency and realize the approximate 45 minute response time for an ambulance to travel the distance from town to help them when a school nurse on site would have the skills and knowledge to be able to assess the situation and possibly be able to save a child’s life.
Either way, budget is budget I suppose. Fletcher did assure us that he was aware of the distance the school is from town and hopes to be able to spread the two remaining nurses to our area as much as possible. In this situation, I guess a sometimes nurse is better than none at all.
Concerns were also voiced regarding field trips, parent involvement and PTO. I’ve seen firsthand that groups like PTO often start out strong, and by the end of the year they dwindle and are begging for help. By discussing things that other schools do to encourage participation, ideas were suggested such as instead of asking parents or teachers to volunteer or commit for the whole year, maybe just focus on one project at a time so that the tasks are broken down a bit more and not so overwhelming. The suggestion of also offering rewards for participation was also mentioned. Both of which I think could be very affective and personally look forward to helping with PTO next year and implementing some of the ideas.
Overall, as a parent I felt like my voice was heard, my concerns were addressed and my input was appreciated.
Though the next Community Days meeting won’t take place until probably next school year, it’s something I highly encourage other parents to take part in it. We (I’m guilty of it, too) often find it easier to sit back and complain, rant on social media or feel discouraged, but if we want a change…we have to help be part of that change.
Administrators can’t know what needs fixed and what we aren’t satisfied with, if we don’t tell them. Not complain or put them down, but offer suggestions and encouragement to fix the problems. While I’m sure there are educators throughout the state that are just there for the paycheck (which doesn’t make much sense as teachers don’t make near enough for what they do), I can honestly say I don’t think those types of people are at Blaine. The majority of the teachers and administrators responsible for our children’s education are in their position because they care, they understand the importance of the role they play in our children’s lives and it’s not something they take lightly.
I’m thankful for the opportunity to help them enhance that opportunity every chance I can, and encourage others to do so too.