Community Conversation looks at school priorities.
Parents, teachers, administrators and government officials met Jan. 19 to talk about the state of education and hope for the future in a Community Conversation at the Volusia United Educators building on Educators Road in Daytona Beach. It was part of the national Day of Action declared by education groups around the county.
Before the meeting, Andrew Spar, president of VUE, said that public school educators are especially concerned about the pending confirmation of Betsy DeVos, a proponent of private schools, as secretary of education under President Trump.
“She was asked if she would defund public education and she gave no answer,” Spar said.
There has also been talk in Tallahassee of possible funding cuts to public schools, he said.
“We must stay focused on the mission of public education,” he said. “That mission is to ensure that all children have the support, resources and environment to get the education they deserve.”
The audience commented on the concerns and hope for the future after hearing short talks from Tom Russell, superintendent, Volusia County Schools; Melody Johnson, chairwoman, Volusia County School Board; Mike Chitwood, Volusia County sheriff; Kim Short, parent of three students; Felicia Benzo, child advocate; and State Representative Patrick Henry.
A TESTING SITUATION
A theme running through the evening was the burden of testing on the students and teachers. Russell said he and other superintendents from around the state had asked state government to reduce the testing requirements at a meeting in Tallahassee.
He said he believes in accountability but not the extreme “hype” of testing in the schools today.
Also, he said he’d like to see testing with pencil and paper, rather than computers, so the media rooms can be freed up for learning. He mentioned one school that had a media center locked up almost 80 days a year.
“You’d get your schools back.”
SUPERINTENDENT TOM RUSSELL, on freeing media centers from testing
“You’d get your schools back,” he said.
Another problem with the testing requirements, he said, is that failure of one critical test in high school can keep a student from graduating even after satisfying all other requirements.
He said he’d also like to see a recovery program for students who fall back a grade before middle school and end up dropping out. Skills should be taught to foster employment.
“We must provide multiple paths for students,” he said.
He also turned his attention to retaining teachers, saying he would like to see Volusia County teachers and staff in the top 10% in salary in the state.
Uniforms were a hotly debated topic last year, but seems to no longer be an issue. Parent Kim Short and School Board Chairwoman Melody Johnson said they had worked well.
GATEWAY TO CRIMINAL BEHAVIOR
Johnson said the school district has done a good job tracking attendance, saying the kids who go to school tend to be more successful.
Chitwood agreed that truancy is one of biggest problems, calling it a gateway to criminal behavior. He said that many young men police arrest were truants in school.
He said many of the juveniles arrested by police can’t read or read on a kindergarten level.
Chitwood said he wants to expand the Daytona Beach Police Athletic League model to other schools throughout the County. They teach math and reading, in addition to taking part in sports. He would also like to see police resource officers in every school, who interact and can help mentor the students. For example, the resource officer at Mainland High School is also the strength and conditioning coach.
“The most important people in the community are teachers and police,” he said. “You are our most important resource.”
State Representative Patrick Henry said keeping students back in third grade said getting more participation of parents is very important. Also, he said he hopes public education gets the funding it deserves.
Short, parent of three students, said parents, teachers and school administrators must work as a team.
“We need to care about each other,” she said. “We need to care what others have to say.”
Benzo said she would like to see more one-on-one relationships between parents and students. Teachers should get to know students and their individual problems, she said.
Spar said teachers don’t have time to develop relationships.
“We don’t have time for recess,” he said.
He said it was great to hear Russell talk about possible changes at the state level on testing requirements.
When parents and others in the audience had their say, a common theme was that students have a hard time keeping up with increasing standards.
A general consensus at the end of the meeting is that a list of priorities should be developed. One parent suggested that volunteers could work on the priorities by contacting their state representative.
Spar agreed, saying the meeting was only a beginning.
“If we work together, we can do incredible things,” he said.