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A parent's notes from the school reorganization public hearing on February 17

By Reid Guthrie
Posted Sunday, February 20, 2011

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Siler City, NC - First, allow me to apologize for any mistakes I made in names, and for those whose names I didn't write down. I was doing my best to write and listen at the same time. Frequently Mrs. Deb McManus would name the next speaker while I was trying to finish transcribing the previous speaker's presentation.

I did the best I could to capture the motivating thoughts behind the presentations, many of which went on for several minutes, but as I read my notes I find I didn't always do a good job of capturing the spirit and energy of the speakers. There is clearly a lot of love and passion for schools in Chatham County no matter the configuration. The administration and board have an exceptionally difficult job ahead of them.

Garrett & Seth, 6th graders at Silk Hope – There are leadership opportunities due to small school size. Garrett was elected to the Student Council. There are more sports opportunities due to smaller school size. Fewer sports overall, but fewer students to compete against for positions on a team allow more opportunities to play.

Colby, 7th grader at Silk Hope – Jr. Teacher program has inspired him to become a teacher! Busing students further uses more gas.

John, 3rd grader at Bonlee – Book Buddies program allows older students to interact with and tutor younger students. All grades are mixed in the multi-purpose room prior to school without problems. Would rather cut some technology but keep enough for students to learn than reconfigure.

Teacher from Bonlee – Bonlee is separate setting school for 2 other feeder schools. EC program at Bonlee would be lost/broken up. Transitioning EC students takes time and preparation. Older students tutor EC students. One student took 105 days until he could walk into the school on his own.

Parent of 2 EC students at Bonlee – 8th graders tutored her blind daughter and helped her learn how to play on the playground.

Student at Jordan Matthews – Feels like she has been silenced due to being a minority. Reconfiguration will open K-8 students to new people, cultures, and ideas.

Student at Chatham Middle – Reconfiguring schools will reduce racism.

Student at Bonlee – K-8 schools are like a second family.

Band teacher at Silk Hope and Pollard – We need to keep music programs in the schools. Music and other arts programs are the reason some students to come to school.

June Swaney, teacher at Silk Hope – We feel that Virginia Cross, Chatham Middle, and Siler City Elementary are “sister Schools”. Reconfiguration has nothing to do with fear but with what we love.

M. Hayhurst, teacher at Silk Hope – Being a teacher at Silk Hope has led her to get many certifications that she may not have obtained if she didn’t have to teach a large variety of subjects and students. Has relationships with students and faculty. Teaching 1 subject 6 times a day at a middle school she saw many more students and didn’t develop those relationships. Things SH has that would likely be lost: AIG stock market game during school, Odyssey of the Mind, Drama Club, Green Club, Art Club. Art Club is a behind-the-scenes way for students to be involved in drama productions.

Jennifer Jourdan, teacher at Silk Hope – Lots of opportunities for K-8 students. Pen pals program with 8th and 4th graders develops relationships and respect. Jr. TA program where 6-8 students work with elementary kids in the classroom and help teacher with grading papers.

H. Matthews, from Silk Hope – Speaking for K-2 teachers and TAs. Jr. TA program allows 7th and 8th graders to work directly with younger students in the classroom. Cross-age tutoring benefits both older and younger students. K-8 schools instill values generation after generation.

Ms. Wendy, TA from Silk Hope – Stepdaughter is now 8th grader at SH who spent 2 years in a middle school. After her 1st day at SH she wanted to know “Where are the police in the halls?”

Heather Brooks, teacher at Silk Hope – Has taught all over Chatham County. Now lives in Asheboro and travels to Silk Hope to teach because she loves Silk Hope. Has taught for 26 years and tries every day to give something back.

Heather Beckwith, EC TA at Silk Hope – Is interested in investigating Wilkes County model. Don’t tear apart my family and home.

Kathy Vitaro, pre-K teacher at Silk Hope – Has made a lifelong study of early childhood development. Social skills are a better predictor of success than academics, sports participation, or any other measurement. Students get to know and develop relations with students, teachers, and staff, and more importantly, learn to trust adults in the K-8 setting.

Maddie Jean Fox, teacher at Silk Hope – SH is more than education – it’s a community. It ties together local churches, Ruritan club, local businesses, and fire department. Sees students graduate and return to community as successful people.

Mrs. Swaney made closing remarks that were awesome, but I was so transfixed I didn’t write anything down.

Hoyt Lee, parent of Horton students – Made the decision to send kids to Pittsboro Elementary and Horton Middle rather than Moncure for better test scores and stability in staff and administration. 5th graders are isolated from middle school students at Horton. Likes variety of classes and programs offered at middle schools.

Todd Roper, parent of Silk Hope students – Board and Administration have huge duty. So do parents. Interaction between older and younger kids, teachers, and parents at a spring event was a “perfect day”. K-8 schools are performing! We need to collaborate and share our passion. If you want band, our community will get you band! Is there opportunity for public and private sector to work together? For instance, there are people in the recreational football league who will donate time and equipment to a school football team if football is that important. Board members must be certain “beyond a reasonable doubt” that reconfiguration is the right thing before making that decision. There can be no doubt because this isn’t a thing that can easily be undone. Can’t imagine his 6th grade daughter on a bus with high school students.

Gordon Murrell, parent of Siler City Elementary students – Thinks he would have to be a monster to mess with Silk Hope’s “good thing”. Siler City Elem, with over 600 students, receives that same allocation from local funding as a school with just over 200 students. That means they have the same number of reading specialists (1) and others as the smaller school. Title I money should NOT be used to close the gap in local funding! We need to channel the energy we have now to work together in the best interest of all our kids.

Lisa Knight, parent of Silk Hope students – Chapel Hill native. Taught at Northwood and moved to Silk Hope because of SH school. Schools have to be safe, have dedicated staff, incorporate current events, and incorporate extra-curricular activities as much as possible. There are intangibles that are difficult to articulate. Why are the special programs not at all or schools? We should research the Wilkes Co. model.

Merkensen, Siler City Elementary – Dual-language program will bring equity and create citizens of global community. Who gets to define “best”? Us? Look around the room? Who speaks for the minorities who are not well represented here?

Parent from Bonlee – Don’t grind our gem of a school to dust and hope to make something from the dust. Bonlee school is the scaffolding that supports the community.

Parent from Horton – Every school has a “My School” story. Sees willingness to give up specials and programs as a “tragedy”. You can’t take 5th graders out of Horton without killing Horton’s funding.

Moore, from Silk Hope – Arts and sports are important. Many students won’t be able to participate in a larger school setting.

Kerry Bailey, parent of Pittsboro Elementary student – Small, diversified community and sports brought her family to Chatham Co. Concerned that budget does not benefit all students. Taking 5th graders out of Horton will devastate funding.

Mr. Stark, Horton Alumni Association and former School Board member – Concerned with the shrinking of Horton and what that would do to funding. Where does it stop? Money follows students. Programs follow the money. If you reconfigure, reconfigure <span>all</span> schools, no exceptions. Make sure Horton is funded like all other 6-8 schools even if Horton shrinks.

Mark Dillon, teacher at Jordan Matthews – Students were setting up the room were talking about reconfiguration. Even though one was from K-8 program and one was from a middle school they were speaking nicely and articulately. Has filled out many college applications over 10 years and has never seen “Did you attend a K-8 school” but has seen “Did you participate in band (drama, etc.)”

Josh Conrad, Bonlee parent – Mr. Logan has divided us as a community. If he were pastor of a church he would be asked to leave for splitting the church. Bonlee has tradition of great leadership. Doesn’t believe volunteer model can make up for, or is appropriate for, loss of TAs. His wife is a teacher who doesn’t think it would be possible to do her job without TAs.

Shannon Mitchell, Silk Hope parent, president of Silk Hope PTA – This is her 3rd round of redistricting and first reconfiguration. She’s held 3 PTA advisory board meetings, 1 general PTA meeting, several public meetings at Moncure, and 4 school board meetings in the last month. Survey to SH parents had 99% response rate. 98% of respondents did not want reconfiguration. 2000+ signatures on county-wide petition against reconfiguration. Over $50K raised by SH PTA every year. PTA works with site-based management team from SH to align funding for programs and needs at the school. Communities need to work together with each other and the board to avoid future surprises.

Elizabeth Laws, 9th grade teacher at Jordan Matthews – SH students are best prepared students she sees. JM has to spend time and energy closing the achievement gap between K-8 and MS students.

Melodi Thrift, Silk Hope parent – Shared her personal experience in public schools. Her academic behavior problems really started in Jr. High when she stopped feeling like an individual and started feeling like a number. Her problems worsened in high school. She dropped out in 11th grade. She has an older son who followed the same path. Felt like no one cared about her or her son. Concerned about those who get lost in that system. Younger children are thriving at Silk Hope School.

Miriam Pollard – Does not have any children. Why is it OK that black and brown children don’t get the same money? How equitable is this system? How is it that Bennett and Silk Hope students get almost a private school education while Chatham Middle and Jordan Matthews struggle? Why do brown children feel silenced?

Mrs. Brooks, teacher at Bennett – Teacher for 19 years. Has worked in Title I and non-Title I schools. Title I kids DO get services. Moved to Bennett and it was a different world. There were less services at Bennett due to lack of Title I funding. Found out about reconfiguration from a parent of one of her students.

Eric Brooks, Bennett husband and parent – Budget crunches force us to do things we don’t like. This crunch is causing us to create a middle school system. Budget is being fit to the agenda. Wilkes Co. switched to MS model 10 years ago. Since then has had to close 2 schools w/ 100 students and their Career & Technical Magnet School due to budget problems. 2 years ago moved to extended day schedule where they go longer days but 18 fewer days per year (162). In an $84M budget they have saved $860K with this change. If you applied that same multiplier to Chatham’s budget we could save over $1M dollars annually. DPI sold them on the MS model, and had them sell it to the parents, with the promise of increased 1-on-1 time with teachers but that hasn’t happened.

Mr. Logan remarks on Wilkes Co. plan – Changing a calendar is a huge disruption. 18 extra days of day care puts too much on working parents. It is very difficult to unchanged. Need time to consider. Not sure if Chatham Co. wants this plan.

Rosemary McCluskey, Siler City Elementary parent – Children have thrived at Siler City Elem. Can’t believe all the negative things she’s heard about SCE. Believes racism is a BIG issue in Chatham Co., the elephant in the room we’re all ignoring.

John Toronto, Siler City public health clinic – Believes inequity in education and health care is real. School is a building. Why can’t we have your child? The best thing that could happen to many of you is that your son will bring home his friend Jose and you’ll serve him tacos.

Jerry Polston, Bennett parent – We value different things. Some value band. Some value arts. Our small K-8 schools value community. Several states have districts converting to (or back to) K-8 schools. We have to swallow our collective pride and listen to other communities. It’s OK if feeder schools don’t have some specials. Look at the successful HS horticulture program where none of the feeder schools have horticulture programs. Parents from ALL of the schools, no matter the configuration, love their schools and are proud of their schools and don’t want them to be changed. Don’t change our schools. Closed with a list of positions and cost of compensation packages from administration offices.

Nathan Conroy, Siler City Elementary – Disparity in funding is a big concern. Parents, students, administrators, and students are all working hard and when you look at the cost per child they feel they are getting the shaft. There are a bit sensitive about being viewed as a low-performing school.

Angela Andrews, principal of Siler City Elementary – She was student at Bennett and teacher at Bennett. Lives in Silk Hope. Principal at SCE, and children attend SCE. When people found out she was leaving Bennett for SCE they said “I’m SO sorry”, which she believes was an example of racism in smaller communities. Racism is in our community and must be addressed. Hopes we can channel all this energy into something productive. Explained how Title I funds are spent in response to question from someone in audience.

Dan Sundberg, Silk Hope – Was originally going to say this was not a K-8 vs. middle school argument. Scenario I vs. II has put us in a position we shouldn’t be in. Blames Mr. Logan for dividing the community. Moncure gets complained on because of a high per-student cost but there is lots of growth in the Moncure area and Moncure may have 500 students in 5 years. This will drive the cost/student way down. Believes administration is top-heavy. Private sector has been cut to the point that people are doing the jobs of 2 or 3 and we want the same from our administrators.

Mark Ferri – 98% of the people who voted school board into office oppose this change. As a representative government you should reject this change. Shared statistics that 4 out of 5 of our K-8 schools have lower percentage of white students than county as a whole. Graduation/dropout rates suggest MS model isn’t working.

Trisha Culberson, Silk Hope parent – Silk Hope IS diverse! Let’s keep it about the budget. We want to work with the board.

Alfred Dellabuse, Silk Hope parent – Board was elected to represent us, not to govern us and tell us how to live our lives. Einstein said we see what we look for. When schools were integrated we were given 24 months to implement. Reconfiguration is being given 2 months.

Justice Monsour – Equity and diversity have nothing to do with reconfiguration. Believes if we really want to improve struggling schools we should convert them to K-8 schools. But she knows those schools don’t want to change, either. The great thing about Chatham Co. is that we have both. And parents should have a choice.

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A parent's notes from the school reorganization public hearing on February 17
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