By Lisa Baldwin- At the April 9, 2015 Buncombe County school board meeting, the most important items for discussion were omitted from the agenda. What are some of these crucial omissions? Two of the most important items school boards are responsible for ensuring – safety and academics – were missing from the agenda.
Buncombe Schools’ High Crime Rate
BCS has ranked in the top three school districts for criminal acts and violence for the past five years. But a discussion of possible solutions was not on the agenda, although Buncombe assistant superintendent Robbie Adell was quoted in a recent Citizen-Times article regarding the school crime and violence reporting process:
“Our goal is to report the way it was intended by the state. That’s why our numbers look kind of high. We report everything.” For example, he said even an elementary student with a plastic knife goes in the report. “If we find that, we still have to report it,” Dr. Robbie Adell said. “I think that is skewing our numbers.”
Hmm….Really? A state Department of Public Instruction official clarified that kitchen utensils like plastic knives are not to be recorded; the law requires reporting real crimes like drug possession and assaults on school personnel, 16 types of crime in all, not kindergartners using plastic knives to cut their food. It sounds like someone is making up excuses rather than proactively trying to solve the problems of crime and violence in our schools. When Wake County Schools found themselves in a similar situation, they developed new protocols, school resource officer training programs that proactively addressed potential problem situations and better defined the role of the officer versus the principal who is responsible for discipline. Buncombe just held their second annual safety symposium focusing on crisis management. Why didn’t school crime rates go down after the first symposium? Perhaps these symposiums are just lip service and don’t really address the safety crisis in our schools.
Low Academic Performance
The second omission was Buncombe Schools’ low academic achievement. Thirty of 39 Buncombe schools scored a C or D on their school report cards, even with the artificially inflated 15 point grading scale. That means 30 of 39 BC schools scored below a 70. That used to be a failing grade. And yet academic achievement and school success models were not on the agenda.
So what was on the agenda at last Thursday’s school board meeting?
The Board approved school uniforms for students at Koontz Intermediate School for the 2015-16 school year. But will the requirement of school uniforms result in safer schools and higher academic performance? Research is mixed. In one study at Youngstown University, the researchers found uniforms improved attendance and graduation rates while decreasing suspension rates. The study did not show any improvement in academic performance. In another study at the University of Missouri, there was no correlation between uniforms and academic prowess.
Koontz currently has a school performance grade of 63 out of a possible 100, or a ‘C’, using our 15 point grading scale; by any other measure, this is a failing grade. Koontz also failed to meet expected student academic growth. Academic growth measures progress made by students during the school year. On average, Koontz students failed to achieve a year’s worth of learning in a year.
The first and foremost responsibility of the school board is to ensure all students have an opportunity for academic success. Shouldn’t all students have access to safe schools and a year’s worth of learning in one year?
The school board is an oversight board and its members are not holding school officials accountable. The school board itself has not been holding work sessions prior to meetings to discuss what should be on the regular meeting agenda or to bring up issues that parents and teachers are concerned about. Teachers are working hard to teach but their hands are often tied by the inferior common core standards. And the state common core commission has yet to recommend new standards for the fall.
The monthly school board meeting is the only time the board can discuss issues affecting our children but the April school board business meeting lasted only 20 minutes. In addition to naming the Koontz Intermediate reading nook, Crawford’s Corner, Avery’s Creek Cafeteria was named after a longtime school employee, Mr. Johnny’s Cafe. The budget was amended after slightly more school funding than expected came in. The superintendent will bring a plan to the Board in May for keeping the Zeugner pool open for two years for swim team practices. The county has borrowed $6.5 million to build a new indoor pool.
The first and foremost responsibility of the school board is to ensure all students have an opportunity for academic success in a safe learning environment. Too bad they forgot to put it on the agenda.