sam's notes

notes on government, sports and popular culture

Wednesday, September 08, 2004

 
I went to the school board meeting last night. Lucky me.

There were two major topics of discussion: a pilot school watch program and, you guessed it, transportation.

Chief administrative officer John Wright and GPD captain Dwight Crotts presented the pilot program to the board. The program is described as a "proactive approach to school safety and crime prevention, which includes attention to observation and reporting such as identifying actual gang related graffiti or involved indviduals WHILE (caps theirs) eliminating misconceptions and perceptions regarding this type of activity." Huh?

There are three major means of doing this: educating school respource officers (SROs) and staff; establish guidelines for reporting and investigating information; and community interaction, which would entail providing consistent information to affected parent and community groups. Wright wants to start the program at five middle schools in the system: Aycock, Guilford, Hairston, Jackson and Kiser.

The only cost, Wright said, would be the time school faculty and employees would have to devote to the training.

"We're trying to be proactive, considering some of the concerns that have been raised," Wright said.

The plan was greeted with skepticism by the board, but not for the reasons one would expect.

Board member Deena Hayes spoke out the loudest.

"This isn't about being proactive," Hayes said. "This is about gathering data on African-American children and children of color."

Other board members were concerend that the program didn't do enough to reach out to the community.

"If we don't get community interaction, we can't be as effective as we want to be," said school board chairman Alan Duncan. "This won't work without buy-in."

After tossing it around some more, the board voted 11-0 to table the issues pending more effective communication with the "school community." Hayes made it known that she wanted members of public housing to be a part of that communication.

"These are people that are never invited to the table, and that has to stop," she said.

I don't know what to think of the whole situation. To begin with, the proposal is phrased in such a way that no one knows for sure exactly how it would be implemented. And exactly how the police department and school staff would work with the school community was never directly addressed. They were just instructed by the board to go out and do it. My gut reaction is to say it's a dumb idea, but I guess if it's not going to cost the schools any more money, go for it. I guess at this point, it can only help.

The other issue, of course, was transportation. While only two parents made comments during the public speaking portion, their stories weren't pretty.

"The bus routes have improved," one parent said. "My daughter no longer has 12-hour days. She has 11-hour days."

Both parents who spoke about the transportation problem lived in High Point and had children attending Weaver Academy in downtown Greensboro. I worked in High Point for two years, and I can tell you it takes half an hour to get from one place to the other traveling over the interstate in a Honda Accord. So one can only imagine how long the trip takes in a school bus. Well, wait a minute, the kids can: it takes about two hours.

But transportation director Jim Moen reminded the board that it just takes a while to get kids from High Point to downtown Greensboro.

"The Weaver rides will be tough to adjust," Moen said. "I know people don't want to hear that."

Board member Dot Kearns was overly concerned about the situation, saying she's heard from parents with kids attending Weaver more than anyone else. She had a remedy for the situation.

"We need another place like Weaver in the southern part of the county," Kearns said.

Throughout the discussion, a recurring theme was trying to tie the High Point choice plan to the bus hubub. Both Kearns and fellow board member Kris Cooke, both sitting on political hot seats, asked Wright and Moen how the choice plan was affecting bus rides in Greensboro.

"I don't think it has any impact," Moen said.

Ironically, Wright made the case that all students involved in the school choice plan were the ones getting to school on time.

"We have a limited number of students that are over 65 minutes," Wright said.

Moen then explained the complicated process of getting more buses on the routes, which should get all the students to school on time. It takes a while to get new buses on line, he explained. The other option, he added, was to "cash in" school bus "credits" gained when the system turned in buses as a result of the consolidation several years ago.

But that process takes time, too, Moen said, especially when you're dealing the state.

"When you turn the credit in, the question then becomes, 'can you get the bus fast enough?'" Moen said.

Then board member Darlene Garrett expressed concern about the number of elementary school students riding the buses with middle and high school students.

Why not pull the elementary kids from the hubs, Garrett asked.

Because it would cost between $2.8 and $3.5 million to do that, Wright replied.

Though the board was more direct with its questions this time around, nothing was resolved. Parents can only hope the new buses will shorten ride lengths. The effort to make the High Point school choice plan the "smoking gun" in the bus hubub might be a waste of time, in my view.

As I've written in this space before, the best thing parents can do is make board members feel the political heat. They're doing a good job so far.










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