During Tuesday night’s meeting of the Mount Airy City School Board, members discussed ways in which they can improve the school system as a whole.
The board focused on the goal of establishing a Community-based Strategic Planning Initiative which is to have building-level plans that set goals, identify strategies and establish action plans for moving the district to a more intentional process of district and school improvement.
A discussion with the board was led by MCO Leadership Associates Melody H. Clodfelter and Dawn B. Wooten. They pointed out several areas that were identified during a Thursday night meeting of a steering committee made up of 20 members with participants selected from local business leaders, parents and alumni.
Two of the board members, Tim Matthews and Ben Cooke, were appointed to be on that steering committee along with city schools Superintendent Dr. Greg Little.
Matthews reported back to to the board that the public views that came out of that meeting mirrored the views held by the board.
“They had the same views we had so much that it scared me we were so close. We’re that much on target. Everyone there appreciated the seriousness of this project,” said Matthews.
Cooke said the group was clearly able to identify the areas in which the school system is doing well as well as the issues challenging the school system.
“I’m interested to see where it goes from here,” said Cooke.
“It was a tremendous evening. It shows community support and how proud they are of their schools. This process is reinforcing this,” said Matthews.
One of the points that came out of last night’s meeting was that the city schools needs to focus more on music, visual arts and foreign language.
Board member Kate Appler said that she would like to see the school system focusing more on those areas.
“In Mount Airy, we can count the kids that have made careers in the arts rather than in athletics,” said Appler.
Matthews also noted, “We don’t have school because there are ball games. Our mission is not to have a ball game. Our mission is for our kids to learn.”
On the topics of academics, board member David Rowe pointed out that not every student is designed to go to college.
“We’ve gone away from life skills. We are pushing everybody toward college courses, but we need to recognize that we are all not college material,” said Rowe.
Cooke said he saw one of the system’s challenges in academic offerings as limited class offerings.
Board Chair Wendy Carriker said she sees district culture and climate as not only a strength, but also as a challenge for Mount Airy.
Rowe said he thought the district could do a better job at establishing the district’s culture.
“What we are after is a mental and physical image of what a graduate looks like. We need to define what high expectations looks like here. Business people tell me they can tell whether they have hired a Mount Airy graduate or other school graduate,” said Matthews.
Some of the other ideas discussed during the meeting included parental involvement. Clodfelter pointed out that there is not much participation in the Parent Teacher Organization at the B.H. Tharrington Primary School.
Rowe said if there was any one thing that he would like to see overall would be more parents involved with their children’s education at a young age.
“We need to find some way of teaching parents to teach and how to support them academically,” said Rowe.
Appler suggested that parental needs such as reading skills need to be addressed. She also suggested that there should be a way to visit parents “where they are” by taking schools into the community.
Another area the board agreed that needs improvement is communication between teachers and parents. With today’s technology, Matthews suggested that some parents are now preferring to be contacted by email or by text rather than a note sent home with a child. He also pointed out the importance of teacher web pages, which are already in use.
Cooke said all of the teachers need to actively keep their pages updated.
“They are no good unless they are updated. Our son forgot his homework and thank God she (the teacher) had updated it (with the homework assignment),” said Cooke.
Carriker pointed out that there are multiple ways that the school can keep in touch with the community, parents, teachers and students and one of those ways includes Facebook.
When it came to a discussion about the staff, Wooten said it is important for schools to retain a high quality staff.
Carriker said that because Mount Airy is a smaller school system, it’s harder for advancement.
Matthews said that it is important to not just hire a teacher, but to select one. He also said it is important to not over manage the teachers.
“You need to let them do their job,” said Matthews.
On the other hand, Appler said, that often times during evaluations the hard topics are not discussed.
“We need to be truthful and honest about what we see in the classrooms,” said Wooten.
Clodfelter reported that overall Mount Airy has a strong school system with a high graduation rate. Little said that Mount Airy has the second highest graduation rate in the state behind Graham County.
The steering committee will meet again on Sept. 17 at 5:30 p.m.
The tentative goal is to have the district plan and the school-based plans completed and ready for implementation by February of 2013.
Reach Mondee Tilley at email@example.com or at 719-1930.