3/16/12 Community talks look at future of schools

Community talks look at future of schools
By Mike Wilder The Times-News 3/16/12     
Reprinted with permission.

   A lengthy, community-wide discussion of public education is designed to achieve at least two major goals.

   One is to get ideas from throughout the community about long term goals for education — and in particular, to help shape the Alamance-Burlington School System’s strategic plan.

   The other is to create more significant community involvement in the schools — in terms of deepening existing involvement and encouraging new interactions.

   The effort is a partnership between the Alamance County Economic Development Foundation and the board of directors of the Alamance County Area Chamber of Commerce. A release issued Thursday by the two organizations said the “community conversation about public education … (will) focus on Alamance-Burlington Schools.”

   Before public forums and similar events are held to get community input, organizers will form a steering committee to guide the dialogue.

   Jackie Cole, who is chairwoman of the Alamance-Burlington Board of Education, said the communitywide discussion will provide opportunities for people who are already involved in education — such as volunteers from local churches and businesses — to have more of a say in where the system is headed.

   Beyond that, she said, it’s a way to involve people who may never have given much thought to what education should look like.

   “It’s not just parents” who need a chance to share their opinions, Cole said. “It’s everyone who lives in Alamance County. We need the community to take ownership of education. We want more community support, and I’m not talking about just money.”

   Mac Williams, president of the Alamance County Area Chamber of Commerce, said while the effort will focus on education during the elementary, middle and high school grades, it will also give attention to preschool and post-high school education.

   “It’s going to have components that look into what happens before (students) go into the school system and what happens going out of the system,” he said.

   Williams said his understanding is a written report of community input will go to the school system at the end of the process.

   Randy Perkins is chairman of the chamber’s board of directors as well as the economic development foundation.

   “I think the community is going to appreciate the process,” he said, “and I feel like our schools will be more focused on what the community wants” as a result.

   On an individual level, he said, the process should help people focus on what each student needs to get a good education and to be prepared for the work force.

   At times, the school system has relied heavily on getting opinions online or through paper surveys. It did that to ask teachers, parents, students and others what qualities and qualifications the system’s superintendent should have before the school board hired Lillie Cox for the position last year.

   Cole said this effort will focus much more on face-to-face interaction.

   Cole said the school system often gets negative feedback. While she’s not opposed to hearing criticism, Cole said hearing what people feel the system is doing right and what it can do differently will help guide the system in making plans.

   “We want to hear it all — good, bad, indifferent,” Williams said.

   Williams said education and related issues are tied to the economy and the county’s overall quality of life.    Because of that, he said, “It made a lot of sense for us to support the effort.”