Thursday, November 24, 2005

Superintendent shares goals, urges support

Staff Writer

A crowd of 70 or more supporters of the Holly Springs School system attended a reception for new city school district superintendent Dr. Cynthia Gentry.

She called for the community to get involved in the education of children.

Gentry’s message was clearly articulated.

“We have a massive task ahead of us,” she said. “I say we, because it is going to take every one of us.”

She said the community’s goal is to turn out competent, caring, compassionate, considerate people to go out into the workforce.”

The superintendent did not shy away from the current standing of city schools now or from laying out ambitious goals to rapidly improve learning in the school district.

“We are a “D” on a scale of Level 1 to Level 5,” she said. “We are below average.”

Below average in spite of a 96 percent daily attendance rate for students and a 96 to 98 percent teacher attendance rate, she said.

“So, what is missing in that puzzle?” Gentry asked. “The parents are missing.

“We need to keep the main thing the main thing,” she said. “Education is our only business.”

Representative Kelvin Buck agreed saying education is the “most important topic, certainly at the state level.”

Sixty-two percent of the state budget is spent on education, he said. In welcoming Gentry to the community Buck added, “We look forward to the leadership she brings and our hearts, our hands and maybe our pocketbooks will open to her, also.”

Gentry said parents back the star basketball team with their presence at games and will be at the school as early as 4 p.m. to secure their seats in the gymnasium.

She wants that same kind of parental support and enthusiasm for academics.

“Parents need to keep the main thing, the main thing,” she said. “We need that same enthusiasm and loyalty for academics. We want to be champions on the court and in the classroom.”

Gentry wants the school district to turn out competent students who can read, she said.

She set ambitious goals for the schools to rise from Level 2 to Level 3 by year 2006, to Level 4 by 2007 and to Level 5 by 2008.

“It’s going to take each and every one of us,” she said.

Gentry said the school will get to a Level 3 by emphasizing reading, writing, thinking and following directions. She holds principals and teachers accountable for getting that done.

The job of getting to Level 3 in 2006 requires a collaboration and support from the entire community.

“Why?” she asked. “Because we want to be competent leaders. When we are old and in our rocking chairs we want competent people running our government and building our houses. So, it is vital.”

Students will be tested every six weeks and retested on skills they have not mastered to assure the job is getting done right the first time.

She gave a practical example.

“If we wash dishes right the first time, we won’t have to rewash them,” she said, a lesson she taught her children.

As the momentum builds the process will be reinforced with positive rewards for those who do things right, she said.

The process is to be reinforced with teacher training workshops and by asking parents to help children with homework assignments. All club activities will be used to boost interest and motivation to succeed by making learning come first.

“If you want to participate (in a club or activity) you cooperate,” she said. “We seek excellence. We will get students ready to go to prep school.”

The school district will select a book of the month as required motivational reading for the elementary grades.

“Gifted Hands” will be the book of the month for grades 3-6 and “Mufaro’s Beatiful Daughters” a story about character development, has been selected for Pre-K through second grade.

Lack of belief is the main obstacle to getting to Level 3 by 2006, Gentry said.

“We want everyone to help spread the message: we can do this by 2006,” she said.

Buck said the whole community “needs to buy into this.”

“The key is to not let it stop here; to carry this message into the community,” he said.

School board president Martha Thomas said the saying, “It takes a community to raise one child,” is true.

“It takes a child, a mother, a father, a teacher, a minister, a principal, it takes a whole community, whether we have a child in school or not,” she said. “Children need to have their dreams supported; they need us.”

Thomas said children should be read to and encouraged to read and adults should read.

“Our children have to be excited about reading,” she said. “It’s the basis for everything.”

She added that children should experience the arts - music.

“I can challenge everyone to tell me about the one teacher who had a positive impact,” Thomas said. “Mine is Miss Bishop. She couldn’t stand spaghetti straps, but she could teach science.

“We, the board, need you to help us help Dr. Gentry take us to a Level 3 by 2006.”

Mayor Andre’ DeBerry reminded the audience that last week was National Education Week. He said the board of aldermen is supporting Gentry’s efforts.

The reception for Gentry was provided by Rust College and Anderson Chapel C.M.E Church.

Those turning out to welcome and support the school program and Gentry included members of the Rust College family, the Holly Springs Board of Aldermen, the Holly Springs School District Board, teachers and staff with the school district, several local ministers, Cecelia Bost with Alliance HealthCare System, pastor Travis Robinson Sr. and friends from Greenwood C.M.E. Church in Memphis, Dr. Freeman from Crittenden College.

Gentry’s mother Annie D. Holmes, sister Glorious Holmes, daughter Courteney Gentry, sister Diane Holmes and friend Ruby Williams also attended the reception.

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