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Why can't the Chatham School Board make a serious effort to listen to parents?

By Judy Hogan
Posted Friday, February 11, 2011

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Moncure, NC - Hi, all, I'm a grandparent in Chatham, not a parent, but I have worked as a poet-in-residence at Moncure (6-7-8th grades), in Silk Hope (7th), in Virginia Cross (3rd). I care about all these children, and I'm very impressed with the educational experiences I've witnessed, especially in Moncure's middle-schoolers, where they paid me very complete attention, and wrote thoughtful, imaginative poetry.
Dear Mr. Hamm:

I appreciate very much receiving your information about the agenda for the February 14 meeting. I did read the material carefully. I have several responses.

1) In this county, we have an unusually active participatory democracy. If you want to make major changes, even if the Superintendent and the Board of Education feel that it is best for the children, you will find that it is 100 percent better to work with the parents, teachers, and communities and not try to push it off on them. At the moment, you have five rural schools and their parents up in arms, and I see very few serious efforts to listen to what they have to say.

2) The reasoning, the logic and the numbers presented to the Board on Monday, Feb 14, sound good on paper. The trouble is that the bottom line is not the abstract reasoning or the numbers but the children’s education. All of these schools are relatively small, with dedicated teachers, active parents, supportive communities. In these schools, the village is rasing the child, raising all the children. I know Moncure School best, where I have taught poetry to these middle-schoolers, I learn about them from active parents in our community, and I read about them in the Chatham News/Record.

I would submit that Chatham County Schools should use Moncure School as a model school for how to motivate children, some of whom come from families where parents do not read books and do not have higher education. The Superintendent and the BoE should be proud of Moncure’s achievements, how well all its students do, two years of being School of Distinction, and how the children behave (no bullying, accepting of the diversity of African American, Hispanic, and white, as well as income differences).

The class sizes are small, the teachers are dedicated. Even the frequent change of principals has not disturbed the high morale of this school and its children for the last ten years, but in 1999 the morale was poor because of a poor principal. The parents and the community give constant support and make sure that every child has school supplies and sports equipment.

3. When education is working well for children in rural schools, and there are many signs of it, evidence that can be documented, in the attitudes, achievements, the selection for special honors, etc., why disturb it? The children will not flourish if their parents are angry and the teachers are overworked, and not supported in what they are doing. The Superintendent himself points out that the two models (K-8 vs K-5 and 6-8) succeed based on superior teaching. What makes for superior teaching? Of course, the education and commitment, the ingenuity and skill of the teacher. But what happens to a teacher when they are treated as these plans will treat teachers? What happens if these extraordinarily motivated teachers feel that are now merely pawns in a bigger game. You don’t give your best if you don’t feel supported and valued. Right now the teachers at Moncure give way beyond 100% because they are valued and supported by parents, children, community, and principals.

4. One of the arguments used for forcing this model of K-5, 6-8, 9-12 on the schools is that the resources, like gym and Spanish teachers, can be allocated so that all children benefit. But is this the real issue? These rural schools are not equal to the new Margaret Pollard, where my own grandchildren will go. But they have qualities and strengths for beginning the life of school children that can be lost in a bigger school with more crowded classrooms.

Equal is nice, but I think what the rural children have now is more helpful to true education, true growth of the love of learning, true envisioning of what they can do with their lives beyond school than what new facilities, gym teachers, and Spanish teachers (in middle school) can provide. Those things can be offered in 9-12 schools, as they are now.

5. I’m very aware that, in 2004 the Superintendent Mr. Mabe was a very destructive force in the county. The principals he appointed were often quite bad. The morale in many schools among the teachers was terrible. I worked with the Chatham Coalition in 2004 to elect Holly Duncan and Norman Clark to the School Board.

Holly had taught Special Education in Pittsboro Elementary, and she left because of how she was treated. She got a job in Orange County. She came back to run for School Board, and she was elected. Norman and Holly’s first goal was to change superintendents. Once Mabe was gone, everything got better.

I have no personal animosity to the present superintendent. I’m sure Mr. Logan’s motives are good and that he’s a good person, meaning well. But let him slow this down, let him allow true parent, teacher, and community participation. The School Board has a responsibility to its constituents to slow this down, allow community input.

6. I realize that there’s a deficit. It seems to me that, if the Superintendent and the BoE look at their whole budget carefully, that money can be cut without disturbing the schools that are presently working so well. I don’t think you should take teacher aides out of the 1-3 grades. What kind of burden are you putting on the teachers, what hampering of their success are you measuring out for little children? Why don’t you let the community have input on this?

I bet these small communities could work out imaginative solutions that the Board might not have thought of. If the budget must be cut, let’s cut teachers the very last. Let’s look at phone expense, paper, office support, and positions at the central office. Let’s give it some time, and let’s also ask the commissioners to help make up the difference. Whether we are Republicans or Democrats, rich or poor, black or white, or Hispanic, the biggest value we have and should have as a county is the superior education of our children, for all our sakes.


Judy Hogan, Poet-in-the Schools, citizen of Moncure and Chatham County

cc: Deb McManus, Gary Leonard, Flint O’Brien, Del Turner, Robert Logan

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Why can't the Chatham School Board make a serious effort to listen to parents?