By CAMERON JERNIGAN
RICH SQUARE – Education just might be the most important civil rights issue that this area faces.
The Northampton County chapter of the NAACP realizes this, and wanted to make positive change in the area. On June 3, they hosted an education panel discussion at W.S. Creecy School in Rich Square. The purpose of the panel was to bring attention to and start discussion on how to better the condition of public education in Northampton County.
On the panel were several local clergy members and members of the Northampton County Board of Education. The group included Rev. McCullough, Rev. Franklin D. Williams, Rev. Richard Webb, Carolyn Boone, Board Chairman Clinton Williams, Vice Chair Lucy Edwards, and board members Kelvin M. Edwards, Sr. and Marjorie Edwards. Also on the board was Northampton County Superintendent Monica Smith-Woofter.
In attendance were 50 Teach for America participants that will work in eastern North Carolina this coming school year. Northampton County Board of Education member Marjorie Edwards was excited to see the young people in attendance.
“I’m so excited we got this young energy in the room, because this is what we need. Because we got an active bunch of children,” Edwards said with a laugh. “Wherever you go, we’re so excited you took the time to come out, to be a part of us. We hope that you’ll come and stay and work, and help our children be what you are or better. Okay?” she said, addressing the Teach for America participants.
Community members and members of the Northampton County NAACP were also in attendance.
Tony Burnett, Northampton County NAACP president, was the moderator for the discussion. He believes that the county has good, committed teachers.
“I learned this in life: you need committed teachers to teach our kids. We need that.” Burnett said
He cites funding as one of the key issues the school system in Northampton County faces.
“The schools need funding. We can’t afford to lose our teachers because we can’t pay them. The school system needs to be able to compete for high quality teachers and to attract those teachers to this area,” Burnett said.
When asked about how administrators expect to secure federal funding through successful Common Core implementation, Superintendent Smith-Woofter responded, “It is important for our teachers to understand the content standards and the level of challenging, critical thinking, complex thinking, that’s required, not only of our students, but our teachers, because it’s a different way of teaching.”
She went on to say, “After you have a good understanding of what it is expected of you to teach, then at that point we have to look at the mindship that all of us must work collaboratively together, because we have to change our pedagogy.”
She also commented on the lack of funding that the school system receives, saying, “We have to be very competitive and proactive with the resources because, as a rural community, we don’t receive any kind of extra real estate tax or city tax that we can put toward our educational funding opportunities; we have to rely on the federal grants or state grants that afford us those opportunities.
“This past year, we’ve actually gained over $600,000 to afford those professional development learning opportunities for our students and for our teachers,” she says happily.
Both Burnett and the Superintendent cited the school system’s role in economic development. They both expressed that without a thriving school system, economic development is nearly impossible.
Burnett believes it is time to change things saying, “We got to put our foot down and say enough is enough; not in my community, not where I live, not for my kids. We got to do that, we got to make that statement. That statement needs to be made today.”
Several members of the panel, including Chairman Williams, Carolyn Boone, and Rev. Webb, cited teacher retention as an issue facing the school system.
Webb noted, “I’d like to see teachers come and stay, and form a relationship, ‘cause children do better when they know they have a mentor as a teacher that they can go and talk to.” Williams and Boone voiced similar sentiments with Boone mentioning that when new teachers come, they have to learn common core, which makes accomplishing progress more difficult.
Many panelists also cited parental involvement as an issue, especially Board of Education member Marjorie Edwards. She also cited that teachers may have to go the extra mile and do more than what is expected and to be involved in students’ lives, even within the home, when parental involvement is not there.
Most of the panel members and attendees cited collaboration between administration, staff, and students as a driving force in bettering the state of education.
Rev. Williams recalled his time as a teacher, saying “Make yourself part of the team, and with your ideas, make sure that you partner very strongly with the principal. The principal can make and break any idea.
“You’re going to be introduced to a lot of things, certain things. It’s one little animal you’re going to be introduced to called staff meetings,” he said chuckling. “Just hang in there. Do what you can. Don’t push too far, don’t make anybody mad, but become a part of the team and be a good team player, and I think you’ll succeed.”
Burnett ended the program by addressing the incoming Teach for America participants.
“Where would we be with teachers? Where would we be? Without teachers, we wouldn’t have any profession in this country. Somebody is going out, somebody that cares. I thank you for caring. What you do means so much to the little kids out there. Thank you. God bless you. I look forward to seeing you guys,” he said.
Incoming Teach for America participant Roland Rosario thought the discussion was very insightful regarding problems education and the community face in the area.
“I really enjoyed coming here and seeing what the pressing issues were for the community. It really puts the job that I’m about to do into perspective because, you know, just hearing the parents, the grandmother (referencing panel member Marjorie Edwards), and seeing how much she really cares; it makes me want to be more invested into what I’m going to do. It’s also good to see the community cares and that they’re actually really willing to work with the teachers,” Rosario said
Eastern North Carolina lawyer and Bertie County native, Tonza Ruffin Buffaloe, who runs a nonprofit organization called Esquires for Education, believes that the discussion was a good start.
”I thought it was a good start for conversations that we need to have in the community about education. I believe that in order for us to succeed, we need to have more conversations like this. This isolated incident is not going to fix all of the issues that we have in the area. My biggest concern is that we will all walk away and not continue this dialogue and therefore nothing will be changed,” she said.
She also felt that community members should also be involved in making change, saying, “I also believe that in the future when we have the dialogue, there needs to be more community members involved because I think that, what I felt today, was there’s a lot of an expectation from school officials to change everything. I think the community has to be involved if we really want to see change.”