August 14, 2008

Board Splits on Training for Parents


GREENSBORO -- Guilford County school leaders gave a vocal group of parents some of what they sought Tuesday evening, but not enough to completely reassure the parents about the school system's sincere interest in working together.

About 20 parents wanted the district to send about 40 people whose kids attend the county's poorest schools to a conference this fall to learn about increasing parental involvement at such schools.

The Board of Education voted in a split decision to send four such representatives to the October conference in Birmingham, Ala.

School officials estimated roughly that it would cost about $74,000 to send the larger number to the three-day gathering, while the smaller group would cost about $7,200.

"I'm glad we got four. That's better than nothing," said Wendy Poteat, one of the parents.

But she and other parents said they were troubled by what seemed like a condescending attitude from district administrators whose jobs involve boosting parental involvement at schools in less affluent parts of the community.

"We're fighting each other when we should be working together," Poteat said.

Newly hired superintendent Maurice "Mo" Green was at the meeting as an observer and spoke with the angry parents after the vote.

At issue was whether the school district should send a large contingent to the annual conference hosted by a nonprofit group that focuses on schools in lower-income areas, the National Coalition of ESEA Title I Parents, in late October.

Title 1 is the federal program for schools with high percentages of students who qualify for free and reduced-price lunches. ESEA is the federal act establishing the program.

Guilford County has 41 such schools.

School administrators and a principal told the school board the district is working aggressively to increase parental involvement at schools with many students from lower-income families. They felt federal money set aside for that effort could be better spent locally at the individual schools.

"Some of us have heard from some principals who ... feel they can get more substantial results from within the building than from sending a large group to a national conference," Chairman Alan Duncan said.

Board member Deena Hayes criticized administrators who she said had a confrontational attitude toward the parents seeking to find ways to help their children succeed.

She proposed that the district send as many as 41 parents, one for each Title 1 school, to the conference in the most economical way possible. Her initiative was voted down.

Duncan proposed that the smaller group be sent, which passed in a 7-3 vote with Hayes and board members Dot Kearns and Walter Childs voting against it.

Afterward, outside the education building on North Eugene Street, Poteat and other parents told Green that they felt the school system was treating them in an illogical way.

On one hand, they hear that lower-income parents are to blame when their children do not perform well in school.

But on the other hand, school officials rebuff their efforts to advocate more effectively for their children, they said.

"That's where change starts," Poteat said. "It starts from finding your leaders in the community and building on that."

Green said he understood the parents' message but needed to learn more about the situation before making any final determinations.

"Obviously, I'm interested in the concerns they raised," Green said. "That's why I offered to meet with them once I start."

Green starts his new job Sept. 8.

Contact Taft Wireback at 373-7100 or [email protected]

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