Questions and Answers

Published 12:00 am Friday, March 23, 2007

AHOSKIE – Educational issues and the concerns of young people in the Roanoke Chowan area took center stage recently at Roanoke Chowan Community College last.

A panel of nine, which included two representatives from each Hertford, Bertie, Northampton and Gates counties’ school systems and District 4 State Senator Ed Jones, answered questions compiled by the 25 member Delta GEMS (Growing and Empowering Myself Successfully).

The Delta GEMS, an initiative by the Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc., is a program aimed at high school age girls and prepares them for the future through encouraging academic excellence, sisterhood, financial awareness and service through civic duties.

According to Delta GEMS Chairperson Natasha Holley, the forum came about through a regular GEMS session where the young women first voiced their apprehensions about educational issues in the area.

Shante Burke, with the Delta GEMS, served as the mistress of ceremony and moderated the event.

How do you feel about how some students see education and how can we as a community work to increase the value of education in parents as well as students?

The panelists agreed that the value of education starts at home and to encourage this some of the school districts have implemented ways to try and encourage parental involvement.

“Bertie County Schools have tried to educate parents through communication,” said Gail Wilson, an English teacher for Bertie County.

Wilson said there is a newsletter that goes out to parents to inform them of what is going on in the schools.

“Research has shown the parent is more influential than educators,” said Dr. Zenobia Smallwood, Superintendent of Gates County Schools. “We welcome parent involvement.”

Smallwood also said there are programs in place to educate parents on what their children are learning, like homework hotlines.

Hertford County Public Schools Board of Education member Wendell Hall said the message of parental involvement and education has to be sent out everywhere.

“We have to deliver the message, not at the schoolhouse, but out into the community,” he said. “We’ve got to carry our meetings out into the communities.

Hall added that schools should be more welcoming to parents.

Bertie County Schools Board of Education member Michael Bracy echoed Hall’s comments saying the parents own experiences in school when they were a child may deter them from getting involved with their child’s school.

How do you see that we can better address individual learning styles and promote a “we care” attitude?

Northampton County Schools Superintendent Dr. Kathi Gibson said the education of all students must be taken into account and how students from different cultures learn differently.

She said schools need to take in account that in the future 66 percent of students will be of color. Gibson added schools should be building the capacity of teachers in order to handle different styles of learning.

Bracy said educators needed to focus on the issue of teaching and learning.

“Teachers need to find out what the students need and go from there,” he said.

Hertford County High School Assistant Principal Keisha Peele said teachers should take the initiative to forge a bond with their students.

“What we have to stress to them is to build relationships,” she said. “When you build relationships you’ll learn the student’s needs and get them to do what they need to do.”

What steps are your school districts taking to ease the overcrowding problem?

Smallwood estimated Gates County Schools’ populations to be 315 students in the elementary schools, 450 students in middle school and 650 students in the high school.

“We enjoy small classes,” she said. “Yes, we need more space, so we can make sure students can get what they need.”

When it came to the topic of the lack of schools and school overpopulation, most educators agreed there needed to be more space, but current buildings could be improved to provide for students’ needs.

“We need to look at the structures we’ve got and embellish them,” said Gibson. “We’ve got to bring them up to 21st century learning.”

What is your district’s plan to recruit and retain highly qualified teachers in all subject areas? Secondly, why are we (as students) being held accountable for certain requirements given the problems in providing adequate staffing?

Smallwood said small rural areas have a difficult time recruiting teachers and noted the area’s close proximity to the Virginia border.

“They tend to want to go that route,” said Smallwood in reference to Virginia.

She then furthered the reason why the Roanoke Chowan area has such a problem with recruiting teachers.

“According to young teachers we don’t have anything to offer them,” she said.

Wilson mentioned a teacher cadet program that Bertie County Schools offers.

“We’re trying to grow our own teachers,” Wilson said.

Hall identified other issues in the area that may make the area unattractive to young teachers, including the lack of daycare and housing. He also added the area has appealing traits, including a lower crime rate and a laid back lifestyle.

“We can help them develop their trade,” said Hall.

Gibson mentioned the North Carolina Teaching Fellows program, which provides scholarships to high school students who in return promise to teach four years at either a public school or a United States government school in North Carolina after they graduate from college.

Gibson said legislators should look at those programs and “within reason” ask those teachers to come to northeastern North Carolina.

“I think it makes a whole lot of sense,” she said.

The North Carolina Lottery has provided an opportunity for all state school districts to receive additional funding to assist with educational expenses. Recent reports inform that the next distribution of this money will be in the near future. How beneficial do you think this money will be to assist school districts in the Roanoke Chowan area?

Educators expressed their frustration with the lottery, saying that the school districts have not seen the support they were assured.

“The lottery itself is not stable,” said Hall. “The amount of money fluctuates.”

“I’m disappointed in the lottery,” said Gibson. “We have not seen that money yet.”

She said Northampton County Schools was promised $470,000 and has only seen a little over $100,000.

Senator Ed Jones said the lottery is not selling as many tickets as initiatively projected.

He explained the way the lottery was sold to the public was surrounding states were taking North Carolina’s money when people crossed over the borders and played the lottery there.

“We bought it and now we’re coming up short,” he said.

Senator Jones, in recognizing that people who further their education from this area seldom return, how do you foresee that more guidance and exposure can be obtained to prepare us for the educational competitiveness of students worldwide and careers that are unfamiliar to the Roanoke Chowan area? Secondly, what are some of your goals in addressing the lack of funding in education in our area and the need to improve resources related to education?

Jones said a good way for students to prepare themselves for the competitiveness is to expose themselves to different aspects of life through trips, religion and educational opportunities.

“Exposure is what you do with your life,” he said.

Jones pointed to Medicaid fraud as a source of what is taking money away from education.

Educators chimed in on ways for students to get exposure.

“You can expose yourself through books and then by sharing what you read with other peers, you’re exposing them,” said Smallwood.

Smallwood added how knowledge of technology can help students compete outside of North Carolina and also compete outside of the United States.

Recent publications from the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction report an increase in the drop out rate. In considering the fact that this is a problem that all counties face, how do you think districts should address this problem?

“It’s not as bad as it sounds,” said Jones. “They don’t take into account the ones that go back to community college to get a GED and then go on to get a four year degree.”

Jones also mentioned legislation that may change the drop out age from 16 to 18, which he says will not stop students from quitting school.

Bracy said people need to take into account how the drop out rate is formulated and how the data is compiled.

Hall agreed with the senator, saying that even if a student drops out and enters into a community college, it’s still considered a drop out.

“The rate is not acceptable,” said Hall. “If one student drops out, that’s unacceptable.”

The topic of parental influence arose again during the discussion.

“I think it goes back to that first piece (in the beginning of the forum) about parental involvement,” said Smallwood.

Gang activity has become a growing problem over the past years. …How effective are the current strategies in dealing with this issue within our schools districts?

Northampton County High School-East Assistant Principal Warren Bell said the only way to stop gang activity is to be proactive.

Bell said students see him in the halls and tell him if anything negative is going on.

“A lot of people think it starts in school,” he said. “It goes back to the parents.”

Bell added students could join an organization as an alternative to joining a gang.

“You learn what you see,” he said.