Thursday, February 28, 2008
City school district works on five-year plan
By SUE WATSON
The Holly Springs School District got rolling last week on a five-year strategic plan, with a meeting at the Industrial Development Authority building.
The district will also develop a drop-out prevention plan and a reading initiative, according to superintendent of education Irene Walton.
She said the three endeavors “will have an enormous impact on the future of education in our community.”
The facilitator for the five-year strategic plan is Ilean Richards of Education Plus and also superintendent of the Leland School District.
As the district that educates the majority of children in the Holly Springs area, Walton said the strategic plan and other initiatives aim at fostering quality education for children and impacting parents, leaders, business and the community in general.
Over 20 people participated in the February 19 community forum.
Richards said the plan will include things the federal and state governments mandate - drop-out prevention goals and increasing school achievement scores - the same things most individuals want for the schools. But other goals in the plan will be developed by the community through this study, which requires participation from those who hold a stake in quality schools as well as district employees, students and parents or grandparents.
Later in the planning process data will be used and the participants will decide how to prioritize goals. But last week, the group was asked to suggest some things that they believe should be in the comprehensive study.
Richards and the members listed and discussed the qualities of highly effective schools and asked what kinds of activities they want to see provided for students.
Other questions included – what graduates are expected to take with them and what they may achieve in life.
Not too many years ago parents made their children go to school with the ultimate goal to leave with a diploma.
Today’s effective schools are called on to have high expectations for all children - meaning personnel actually believe every child can learn, she said.
Planners must decide on the mission they want for the school and then everything becomes secondary to that mission by way of support, she said.
If a school wants to place priority on academics, for example, then athletics and all other activities would be required to be academic-oriented, she said.
Leadership is key to a successful plan.
“You must have instructional leadership in school, beginning at the principal level to everyone in charge,” Richards said.
Frequent monitoring of student progress is a must to be ready for state-mandated testing, she said. So schools should be able to produce evidence pointing to expected achievement outcomes before state testing comes around, if frequent monitoring is in place.
Parents, patrons, and community stakeholders must be positively involved in the school for the school to be successful, Richards said.
The members provided suggestions on how to get positive involvement at the schools and what needs should take priority, including:
Following that, Clencie Cotton offered that a new business environment is coming to the area that will offer high-tech jobs. He said schools should prepare students for these new jobs.
Richards said schools would have to decide what technologies will be needed at school to prepare students for the new business environment.
“Will you need more wireless, more Blackberries, more projectors?” she asked.
Rodney Owens compared the parental involvement in DeSoto County schools with that in Holly Springs. Parents are very visible in DeSoto County schools, he said.
“Parents are required to go to school a certain number of times,” he said. “If parents are there students are less likely to cut up.”
Owens said today’s schools let students tell teachers what the teacher can and cannot do.
“When you take that discipline out, you open up everything else,” he said.
Betty Yates said she would like to see one person responsible for building parental involvement in the schools.
Richards said parental meetings with teachers could be made mandatory with state laws already on the books.
Yates said all parents do not feel the need to be involved in their children’s school.
“We assume everybody thinks like we do,” she said. “It doesn’t work that way.”
One teacher said the school has to suspend a child in order to get the parent to a conference with the teacher.
“When they do come in they are mad as hornets,” she said.
“Parents’ lack of interest is not a school problem,” said Cotton, “it’s a community problem.”
“Is there another way?” he asked.
Owens offered that it is easy to know which parents are involved with their children’s education by the child’s success at school.
Sgt. Hudson suggested that perhaps the school can get the children to get their parents involved.
Richards said one way to get parents involved is to hold more awards ceremonies at school for students including awards for activities that are not curriculum oriented.
The high school and junior high PTA presidents said it is very difficult to get parents to come to meetings.
Richards suggested every parent who attends PTA be asked to invite four other parents to participate.
Yates suggested some parents and grandparents do not attend school functions due to lack of transportation. Some parents have to be catered to, to attend, she said.
Walton noted the same things said about parents could be said of the community.
Owens harkened back to old times when the Pledge of Allegiance was said in school, when parents demanded more of their children and when government did not have such a great hand in school districts.
“It (education) didn’t jump off the track overnight,” he said.
Richards agreed that schools do not do the pledge daily.
“We should do it every day,” she said. “Do we have the courage to make a change? It’s one thing to have a dream, but dreams do not become realities overnight.”
She said most parents love their children and will do what’s best for them if a school meets the parents half-way.
“They will come if we give them reason to come,” she said.
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