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A fresh voice for Franklin schools

Published 10:37am Saturday, October 6, 2012

The latest Scholastic Aptitude Test scores reinforce what we’ve said in this space before: A motivated kid with involved parents can get as good a public education in Franklin as anywhere in the region.

Franklin Public Schools, under intense and warranted scrutiny for poor pass rates on Standards of Learning tests, fare much better against their peers when only the best and brightest students are tested.

Franklin High students made an average score of 1,254 this year on the SAT, a college-entrance exam taken only by students who are considering attending college. That’s a higher average score than Southampton High’s 1,237 and not far behind Windsor High’s average score of 1,393.

When the entire student body is tested, as is the case with SOLs, Franklin doesn’t fare nearly as well.

Travis Felts, the impressive new principal of Franklin High School, is quick to identify the reason: a staggeringly high percentage of students who come from low-income homes.

A whopping 76 percent of Franklin Public Schools students qualify for free or reduced-price lunches under federal family income guidelines, Felts told Franklin Rotary Club members Friday. By comparison, 33 percent of Isle of Wight County students and 45 percent of Southampton County students qualify for free or reduced lunches.

Any comparison of SOL scores should start with an acknowledgement of the tough demographic hand that Franklin schools have been dealt, Felts believes.

He’s right, of course, but the people whose opinions truly matter — parents of young school-age children — don’t care much about the reasons for Franklin’s deficiencies. They just know this indisputable fact: Franklin is the only public school division in Virginia that does not have a single school fully accredited by the state Department of Education. Not one.

And while Franklin serves more poor kids than the neighboring divisions to which it is most often compared, it is not the only Virginia school division burdened by poverty. The percentage of students getting free and reduced luncheons is north of 75 percent in Brunswick County, Hopewell, King & Queen County, Petersburg and Sussex County, all of which have at least one fully accredited school.

To borrow from the modern vernacular, Franklin’s impoverished population is what it is.

To Felts’ credit, he doesn’t belabor the point. Nor is he ready to throw in the towel on public education in Franklin.

Quite the opposite.

“We want to be the reason people move to the City of Franklin,” Felts told Rotarians, “not the reason they think twice about coming here.”

Felts himself is reason for optimism. Refreshingly, he is personally invested in Franklin. He is an FHS graduate and sends his own three kids to Franklin Public Schools. He does not commute from an hour away, like many Franklin administrators have done in recent years. He is not using Franklin as a stepping stone. Rather, being principal of FHS is his “dream job.”

He doesn’t sugarcoat the problems in Franklin schools. He celebrates and touts their successes, as he should.

He engages stakeholders, rather than resist their input and constructive criticism.

“This is a community issue,” he said of public education, which is to say that we — the children, parents, taxpayers, educators, administrators and business owners of Franklin — are all in this together.

Steve Stewart is the publisher of The Tidewater News. He can be reached at steve.stewart@tidewaternews.com.

  • A

    …. There really is no free lunch…we all pay in one way or another. Identifying the problem seems fairly easy; now what ?

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    • mason

      Time to talk before city council or send a letter to the editor, or speak to the school board. What’s written in these blogs does not have to be taken seriously by officials and authorities.

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  • happycamper

    Good points made here. I have long said that there are only three critical ingredients to assure a child gets a great education: 1. Involved, interested parents. 2. Industrious students willing to work to achieve their goals. 3. Good teachers who can impart knowledge, and who are allowed to do so.

    Now, here’s what I don’t understand. Mr. Stewart says in his first paragraph that “A motivated kid with involved parents can get a good public education …” I fully agree. Later on, the shift turns to how many families in the Franklin system are poor. I guess I’m a bit dense, but just why is it that poor parents can’t be involved? What is it? They have to work. So do parents of most “richer” kids. They don’t have access to technology. This is not a requirement. Technology is only one tool that can be used.

    I guess I will never understand why being poor means you simply don’t care about the education of your kids, and you can’t be “involved” because of your economic status.

    I don’t believe that. I think that we as concerned people need to focus on how to ENCOURAGE people to be involved. Teach them how to be involved. You don’t need to have money to care about your children.

    Okay. That’s my opinion!

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  • simplifyingit

    @happy2…………….the city owns all the S-8 property too! They need to get out of the real estate/landlord business altogether. They continually lose money here, replace dept heads at FRHA and never improve the results. Tearing down Suburban Gardens was a good thing. Remodeling/building new homes to give to unemployed/non taxpaying citizens that aren’t looking for work and don’t care if they tear their apt/home apart is a losing business maneuver. Let those “takers”, borrowing the term from Mr Livesay, move away…they don’t bring anything positive to our city. There is a way to get out of this but many “unpopular” and non political decisions have to be made by the leaders. Lets start the revolution by asking our city council members to sell all their real estate property to investment groups that don’t answer to a voter who draws a WIC check, and rent assistance, free lunch at school, free cell phone, and many other govt aids and gives us nothing back. The TAXPAYER has to take America back from the “moochers!”

    While i’m on my soapbox…Tony has many good ideas and is well spoken, lets vote him in to some seat/position of importance.

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  • shocked

    Happy2-that is definitely an area of concern! Hopefully, all community stakeholders will be held accountable for their roles in this problem!!!

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  • happy2

    Hmmm…waiting and watching. We shall see…

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  • mason

    Great observations about Felts! I just hope that the big wigs in central office will leave him alone. He knows how to lead.

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  • happy2

    As long as Franklin offers section 8 housing to anyone that wants to move here from all over the United States the low income will only get worse. Franklin housing authority is crap! As long as they continue to offer it, we this town will continue to decline in education and job availability.

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