Archived Story

Parents ask superintendent Belle to step down

Published 10:12am Friday, October 12, 2012

BY ANDREW FAISON/CONTRIBUTING WRITER
andrew.faison@yahoo.com

FRANKLIN—Two parents during a Tuesday Franklin School Board meeting asked for Superintendent Dr. Michelle Belle’s resignation.

The school board did not respond, and Belle could not be reached for comment.

“Anything that happens with personnel would have to take place in closed session,” Franklin School Board chairman Edna King said. “We did not have a closed session following the meeting, and that is one question I did raise — if we needed a closed session — and the board said ‘no.’”

King sensed the parents are concerned about low standardized test scores.

The three Franklin schools were among 100, or five percent, out of Virginia’s 1,836 schools to be accredited with warning. On Wednesday, the Virginia Department of Education reported that Franklin’s J.P. King Middle School is among the lowest-performing five percent of schools for reading and math and S.P. Morton Elementary School is among the lowest 10 percent.

During the meeting, Dawna Walton told the school board she pulled her child from Franklin schools.

“I have high hopes of bringing her back, but after reading the paper, I have had real concern when I read that our leader, (Superintendent) Dr. (Michelle) Belle, is waiting to hear back from the state in which direction we should move,” Walton said. “It leaves me in awe. It makes me so very sad that our system is steadily declining in our schools and I just feel at this time, we need to ask Dr. Belle to resign.”

Belle was hired in March 2009 and had her contract renewed in January 2011 for three more years.

Kim Kreider, who has three children in the school system, called for a “new captain of the ship.”

“Franklin City Public Schools are not just in trouble, they are in serious crisis,” said Kreider. “I’m sorry to admit, but I would be happy if Franklin City Schools would reach academic mediocrity. I would be happy if we could strive to reach the middle because compared to where we are the middle is a big step forward.”

Christopher Sauntleroy told the school board he plans to pull his daughter from the Franklin Public Schools.

“At this point I have no confidence in our school system as it stands,” Sauntleroy told the School Board during a Tuesday meeting. “I am currently in the process of removing my child from Franklin like so many others in our community have already done.”

He moved to Franklin from New York for what he felt was a safe and prosperous community. Sauntleroy feels otherwise with the change in accreditation for the three schools and administration changes every year.

“If I wanted my daughter exposed to this, I could have picked any school in New York to move to,” Sauntleroy said.

“I hope for the safety and future of the children here in Franklin,” he said. “I hope the school board will look seriously into these matters and consider the leadership that has idly stood by and done absolutely nothing.”

School board member Cindy Fillhart understands the parents’ frustrations and concerns.

“I am hoping we can get our school system up to par and I am hoping we can bring some of our students back and our parents,” Fillhart said Wednesday.

Franklin’s enrollment in September was 1,260 compared to 1,263 one year earlier. Franklin High School had 270 students, down 30 students; J.P. King Middle School had 244, an increase of 15; and S.P. Morton Elementary School had 623 students, an increase of 8 from 2011.

Southampton County Public Schools has seen an increase of out-of-district students from 125 to 144, or 15.2 percent increase; 39 of its students come from Franklin.

“We have had no more of an increase than other years,” said Southampton Academy Director of Admissions Anne Pittman.

  • Miss Scarlet

    This is a community issue. Not just those whose children do not attend school here. If you own your home and pay your taxes to Franklin, you have a stake in this. It is not limited to Randy Martin, or Franklin School Teachers or Administration, non-accountable/accountable parents, or City Council, young or old, or families, etc. Piece the puzzle together. This needs to be a community effort. It starts at grass roots level. Citizens need to take on the “NIMBY”, aka Not In My Backyard, attitude. Not only because you are taxpayers and stake holders, but because it sounds to me that you care about the community you live in. Otherwise you wouldn’t be voicing your opinion on this forum. Do you think those who need to see this are reading? Or if they are, do you think they care? You are most likely not a threat if you are just posting instead of being active. Start a coalition or civic groups. Otherwise taxes will continue to spike and property values will not. That’s why Franklin compared to other areas is a cheap place to live. Then come back to this forum in 5 or even 10 years and let us know who won the battle.

    If you don’t, it is my best guess that Administration will try to lower scores to meet state criteria.

    Suggest Removal

  • channel666

    mrgoodbar23829: No I am not saying that at all, of course the parents are ultimately responsible for their children, but is that what this article is about? No it isnt…its about administration not doing their jobs.

    Suggest Removal

  • brandy0547

    I graduated from FHS in 1995. When I started SP Morton in the 7th grade, it was awful…School was so much tougher than my previous district. When I started at FHS, again, it was awful…the studies were so tough. The teachers were so hard on the students, but….now 17 years later, looking back at my school days, I am thankful for the hard studies. I really appreciate what each and every teacher taught me. I would not be where I am today if I were in a school system that did not care. THANK YOU to all that were part of that. The school system needs to be strong in order for the kids to get a good education and go on to be successful in their career choice. It starts in the public schools.

    Yes, parents need to be held accountable, that is a responsibility of being a parent.

    I am thankful I grew up in the times when kids wanted to learn…This day in time, they don’t. I don’t think the importance of education is stressed to the extent is should be. I really hope there can be a resolution to bring Franklin Schools back to above “par”, like it use to be.

    Suggest Removal

  • meesh

    I remember when people would transfer fron the county to go to Franklin schools because they were better. Its sad to see the terrible state of affairs that the city is now suffering. I can only say that teachers and parents work together to help students get a better school.

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  • shocked

    Channel666, my children do not attend this school system either but I do understand why we as parents should be accountable for our child’s education. For instance, if an elementary age student is cursing the teacher- more than likely those things are going on at home. The parents should be held accountable for such negative behavior which disrupts the classroom environment. These disruptions ultimately result in decreased instructional time and contribute to failing scores on state tests. This is just one example but it happens! We as parents should be held accountable, just as teachers, administrators, and other stakeholders should be!! Fortunately, “We” are involved and instill positive values in our children but there are parents who need to be “helped” so teachers can teach rather than dealing with negative behaviors!

    Suggest Removal

    • channel666

      shocke…do not agree with you at all, have you ever gone to your adminisration and gotten anywhere with them? If you have, Good! We will just see if Belle steps down, I am betting NO!!

      Suggest Removal

      • mrgoodbar23829

        So basically you are saying that the parents shouldn’t be accountable for their own child’s behavior?

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    • momof2

      Shocked- Thank you for saying what I was thinking! Evidently, channel666 is one of those parents who doesn’t take responsibility for his/her children’s behavior and is not involved in his/her children’s education or he/she would not be saying what they said. But you know with a screen name like channel666, they need to be more focused on something else instead of tearing our school system down, which their children don’t even attend!! When you have children it is your job to raise them and take care of them, not leave that responsibility up to others like teachers. Teachers are not miracle workers! They can only do the best they can with what society sends them!! Parents need to understand that!! I certainly do that is why I am involved with my children’s education and make sure they are doing what they should be doing while they are at school! Maybe things would be a little different if more parents in Franklin were like that, but unfortunately it is rare considering the demographics of our city/schools!!

      Suggest Removal

  • channel666

    I fail to see how the parents could be at fault for any of this!! How in the world do you expect them to go up against the school board and administration and City Council??? That is a losing battle!!!! Sick of this forum and wish they would delete it….This is not the parents fault…and oh by the way NO my kids do NOT attend Franklin,, Thank God! But I have had issues with schools before and believe me you are fighting a losing batle again school administration…

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  • handkusp45

    If we don’t fix the schools we lose the city. People don’t want to move here with such poor schools. The ones who do want to move here are the ones who hear that you can get more benefits from Social Services here than in Portsmouth. What does that do to your tax base? It brings more people who aren’t working and paying taxes but are draining the system. We’ve seen what all this Section 8 thing has done. This city cannot continue with the present methods of governing including the school system.

    Suggest Removal

  • Miss Scarlet

    Teachers are doing their best to teach in FCPS.I have been involved with our schools also and have witnessed this. Parents should also know that being involved you learn a lot about the children who attend. My best guess is that as tax payers and parents who have children attending FCPS parents not only need to be accountable as well as the teachers, but they should also understand that there are children that attend FCPS whose parents’ live in poverty and that some of them are even “doing time” leaving their parents to raise their children. Like Makalani pointed out, some parents work long hours at low paying jobs contributing to the working poor factor which also means that some of these parents are not educated themselves and are not able to help children at home with homework because they lack the knowledge to help.

    This goes a lot deeper than looking at ONLY the school. Unfortunately the City of Franklin has a strong leadership that does not want or welcome change or even ideas, they “entertain it.” Yes, it’s going to take more community involvement. But more community involvement means finding people who care to overthrow the good ole’ boy system and start fresh. And that’s exactly what “they” do not want.

    To prove it, The Community Development Department is obtaining Neighborhood Stabilization Funds for HUD certified housing to acquire foreclosed properties within the city for rehabilitation and will be selling these homes at reduced rates through the Franklin Redevelopment Housing Authority. Think about the impact and all the ramifications of how that will significantly affect our community.

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    • simplifyingit

      as i stated before..The grants received require the city to turn it over to the poor, a no win situation.the city buying real estate and putting poor an underprivileged tenants into it is a never ending cycle that drives the median income of the city lower and lower until we get where we are or even worse like Detroits worst neighborhoods, where every other home is vacant or burned out. It is time for COF to get out of the real estate business even if it means a developer gets it and turns a profit!! Randy Martin needs to take action on this now!

      Suggest Removal

  • RWH

    To the concerned parents of children in the Franklin School System and every other citizen in the city of franklin, I say to you….

    Do not let this issue fade away because it needs to be dealt with, period.

    This great city’s future is at stake and it’s school system cannot be allowed to run the way it is now.

    Suggest Removal

  • Brycealek

    I’m a student at Franklin High, and to be honest, it’s not the officials faults. Your kids don’t want to learn. They screw around, don’t pay attention, and then blame their teachers and officials because they feel everything should be handed to them. Focus on the real problem, this cities children don’t want to learn or improve.

    Suggest Removal

  • broncograd81

    As a former Franklin graduate and current tax-paying resident, there is too much b*tching and complaining and not enough doing to solve the problem. Concerned citizens need to attend City Council meetings and demand Ms Belle and other City School Board members attend without any exceptions. They need to hear from the voices of those who pay taxes.
    One of the main problems is that either parents dont care whether or not their kids get of good education or cant seem to find time to help with school work.
    I would look into having ALL SOL related classes monitored on a WEEKLY BASIS by the Principal or Asst Principal. The citizens could form a committee to actively participate in such a program. If students are acting up is part of the problem, remove the problem to an alternative school.

    Suggest Removal

    • Miss Scarlet

      Great suggestion broncograd81!!! But everyone knows who runs the town here and there isn’t any breaking through it. I think all the previous comments made here shows this as understood. The whole “if you don’t like it, you can leave” attitude speaks for itself. You can live here, just shut up and pay your taxes, “we” will take care of the rest.

      Suggest Removal

    • franklingirlbytransfer

      Do you broncograd81 attend any of those meetings? Do you have a child in FCPS? If not, then you are “b*tching and complaining” too. SOME parents in FCPS do care and some do not…but that is not just in FCPS…that is in ALL school divisions. I have taught in several divisions, including Franklin, and have seen it. I NO LONGER teach in FCPS because of the DISRESPECT shown to teachers. People believe the teachers don’t care or are not doing what they should, they ARE! They are there for the kids, but the POWERS THAT BE are making it impossible for them to do their job-teach the kids. They have them working on endless hours of paperwork and other worthless stuff. They are sitting in “staff development” sessions being force fed another technique, rather than being left alone with their students to actually teach them. The students (not all by the majority) have a lack of respect for the teachers and administration…in fact they lack respect for their parents and themselves. I have seen and experienced this first hand. It is time to “fix” the problem…and it needs to start at the central office!

      Suggest Removal

  • April

    Yes, what a mess. Wonder how the relatives of the ‘original’ families feel about the slow decline? Or, have they moved out of Franklin.

    Suggest Removal

    • Miss Scarlet

      They moved out of Franklin.

      Suggest Removal

    • Miss Scarlet

      This “decline” has been taking place since 1971 when Franklin was forced to integrate schools. They have made it an issue through creating the Southampton Academy.

      Suggest Removal

  • amysuite14

    FCPS are in such a mess perhaps the state should take over. Superintendant and Director of Instruction need to go. It’s October what are those people doing to help the teachers?

    Suggest Removal

  • April

    I agree with Miss Scarlett. I, too, was lured by the ‘charm’, but now find myself having second thoughts about whether Franklin was a good choice to purchase my home. Sadly, the City of Franklin will most likely continue to decline on many levels if we don’t get our schools back in order. However, as a resident of Franklin, instead of sitting back and watching the schools free fall to poor rankings it’s time for me as a community member to get involved. As someone mentioned, it starts at the top. Don’t blame the teachers. It takes involvement and strong leadership from the school superintendent, board members and staff.

    Suggest Removal

    • Miss Scarlet

      Good luck getting involved, April. City leaders would much rather kick you out than face their own dilemmas and for those residents whose families who are related to any of the original families that had any influence here will tell you that if you do not like the way things are done here to leave. That’s why we have people like Ms. Fillhart on the school board. 1)The City allows her to think she’s an integral part of the team, which leads to 2) She’s not a direct threat to change.

      Suggest Removal

  • thirdday

    Also, an examination of the central office in general is needed. A school the size of Franklin certainly does not need quite so many directors and leads. Paperwork results from leadership justifying jobs. They have to have something to do.

    You are all correct; there are many steps to be taken. In the meantime, a pile more good teachers are drafting their resignations as we debate this issue. Someone needs to move a bit more speedily.

    Suggest Removal

  • franklingirlbytransfer

    I agree that the superintendent needs to step down, the Assistant Superintendent needs to step down and the Director of Instruction-Bev Rabil- needs to step down…or be given a PINK SLIP! All of them are the “buck stops here” people who are making teachers in FCPS write 30-40 page lesson plans and do ridiculous amounts of paperwork. The teachers in FCPS are doing all they can and if they were allowed to TEACH rather than write goals and 30-40 page lesson plans, they could work on getting the scores up. The students in FCPS are very mixed…some are dedicated, but many are LAZY. I taught in FCPS for only one year because of the rudeness that is allowed by the kids and parents. I think that the wool has been pulled over everyones eyes. Not only should the Superintendent be removed, the entire structure of the school board office personnel should be revamped.

    Suggest Removal

  • PetrasRock

    I believe that the associate director of instruction is as just as much to blame as the superintendent. The superintendent should resign because she is the leader and has let the director of instruction run the system in the ground. However the director of instruction has been the leader of Instruction in Franklin for several years now and we have seen nothing but poor test scores, good teachers leaving faster than the Jews out of Egypt, and unprepared students. Teachers are fired for poor test scores while having to implement the director of instruction’s strategies and tiresome paperwork. The superintendent should go Yes! However, the director of instruction should follow right behind her. Where is the accountability for her?

    Suggest Removal

    • najb

      As someone who knows former teachers and administrators that have served in FCPS, the Associate Director of Instruction has done nothing but bog down employees with tireless paperwork, yet is “lauded” by the VDOE liaison as an “example of which VDOE looks to.” Dr. Belle has seen this go on and on and has watched this woman run away countless good teachers and administrators with her micromanagement. Yet in still, the Associate Director of Instruction is allowed to carry on and bully, intimidate, and make the working environment unbearable for those that actually have the ability to think and rationalize for themselves. Parents and the community should truly examine the methodology used for teachers and really look at what is happening to the schools, but most importantly OUR KIDS.

      Suggest Removal

  • Rotunda

    When are the members of the school board going to wake up? We have seen dismal results with the current superintendent and, un less we care to continue in a downward spiral, must have a change in the administration of the superintentdent’s position, something we have not had since Dr. Farmer.

    Suggest Removal

  • Ol Skinny

    “Cindy Fillhart (an elected official) said: I “hope” we can get our school system back up to “par”… With this type of thinking it will never happen… In the real world this level of performance would be handled with a PINK SLIP!

    Suggest Removal

  • independent

    What is the role of the superintendent? As the CEO of a school system,strategic planning is primary. Maintaining communication and building relationships with various constituent groups (City Council, parents, teachers, Foundations,businesses, legislators,etc) is critical. Setting performance expectations and evaluating principals,etc is paramount. Staying abreast of cutting edge technology and best educational practices is a requirement. The ability to balance and prioritize needs and understand funding sources is huge. Training and educating school board members is a very important responsibility. Not all superintendents will be outstanding in every area, but most will excel in one or more of the above mentioned. After closely watching this situation, it appears that Franklin City Public Schools are not the only ones failing to meet minimum requirements. Dr. Belle should strongly consider immediate resignation. We have effectively been without a superintendent since Dr Riddick/Farmer anyway.

    Suggest Removal

  • Makalani

    @DBenton — RE: “… whether, or not, Dr. Belle is bringing about positive change in FCPS?”

    Perhaps NOT living in the community is a severe impediment to Dr. Belle forming the necessary community alliances with churches/civic organizations that would support the schools/struggling students/apathetic parents.
    That should be at the top of the School Board’s “got to fix this list!”

    While not an absolute barometer — I agree 10,000% that test scores do suggest trends. The trends for FCPS — as Ray Charles can clearly see — are definitely on the down swing.

    Student laziness — parental apathy and all other factors notwithstanding — the buck stops on the Super’s desk who bears the ultimate responsibility for the system’s failure. With the taxpayers spending $13K + per year per student and many students under-performing — I also agree 10,000% “something must be done to bring about a reversal.” Taxpayers — students and the community are getting shortchanged!

    Whether the School Board members can remove the blinders/come out of denial/be objective/decisive enough to confront the situation head-on — ask the tough questions and affect a reversal/leadership change if necessary — remains to be seen.

    Suggest Removal

    • DBenton

      Makalani – We are on the same page.

      Now, if only our School Board would concern itself with doing what is best for the children of Franklin instead of continuing to defend poor performance by the Superintendent. Personally, I’ve seen enough of the current regime. This situation screams for a leadership change. If the sitting School Board cannot see what is so blatantly obvious to most other people in this town, then the majority of them must have their collective heads in the sand. Some changes there would be helpful as well, in my opinion. Children deserve better from the adults tasked with meeting their educational needs.

      Suggest Removal

  • happy2

    The teachers are great, having said that the super. is not. Please remember her last job she was not great at. We are reaping the benefits everyday.

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  • shocked

    Makalani, you are 100% correct!! Fortunately, I have friends who are local educators and I am able to learn more than what is printed in the TN!! The number of students who are accepted into colleges and receiving scholarships provide proof that teaching is going on in FCPS! Becoming fully accredited is not going to be a quick-fix!! I believe FCPS has excellent teachers who are willing to do what it takes to make this situation better.

    Suggest Removal

    • mason

      shocked is right… We have some of the best teachers anywhere around. But they have been piled up over their heads by central office with needless paperwork, and they are afraid to speak out about anything. Talk about a tough job… Most folks have no idea.

      Suggest Removal

  • Makalani

    Changing Supers would be a palliative — not a cure for FCPS‘ problems. Education is a partnership between educators — students and parents. At $13K + per student per year — many dedicated — hard-working educators — who for the most part uphold their end of the bargain — good educations can be had at FCPS.

    The Gates Scholars/others who graduate/go on to college/successful careers prove that. Does the Super get any credit for the successful students — or just the failures?

    The #1 problem — many parents and students don’t always uphold their end of the educational bargain.

    Many parents don’t have/take time to work with their kids — set study times — help with homework and provide guidance for students who are struggling. Many students — with the complicity of their parents — waste inordinate amounts of time on computers — watching TV and playing video games instead of studying.

    Franklin’s poverty/single parent statistics also have a direct bearing on student performance. Many parents are too poorly educated themselves to help with homework. Many others are busy working long hours at low paying jobs trying to make it. Many of these struggling parents are the missing link in the educational partnership!

    Fire the Super if you will. Just make sure that her replacement has a magic wand that he/she can wave to motivate more parents to get involved with their childrens‘ educations — get more churches/civic organizations to partner with schools/struggling students in mentoring/tutoring — and motivate the community as a whole to get invested in the schools!

    Suggest Removal

    • gunner58

      To redirect the school system, the instructional leaders obviously must change. There are 3 new principals, so they should be given a fair chance to effect change. But, the superintendent and director of instruction should step down. Removing the superintendent alone will not resolve these systemic issues.

      Suggest Removal

      • amysuite14

        So agree…not just the superintendant but the director of instruction as well as other school board office personnel have some “splaining” to do. These test scores are indicative of a huge problem. Would you send your child here? Not me

        Suggest Removal

    • DBenton

      Makalani – I agree. Parents and community need to be more involved in the education of our children.
      To your comment – “motivate more parents to get involved with their childrens‘ educations — get more churches/civic organizations to partner with schools/struggling students in mentoring/tutoring — and motivate the community as a whole to get invested in the schools!”. This is exactly what we hoped Dr. Belle would be able to do when we hired her as our Superintendent in Franklin.
      I think the real question that the School Board needs to ask itself at this point is whether, or not, Dr. Belle is bringing about positive change in FCPS?” Are test scores on the increase, or are they falling? Where are we trending? What does the data tell us? While it can be argued that data cannot tell the whole story, I believe it can show you where the trends are – both positive and negative. If, in fact, we are trending in a negative way, then something must be done to bring about a reversal. Without the introduction of a change agent, trends tend to continue.

      Suggest Removal

  • brucem1941

    I am a 1974 graduate of Franklin High. For as many years as one can remember the Franklin City School system was one which our small town could take pride in. I am no longer a resident of Franklin but stay in touch via the Tidewater News and this article is painful to read. Not only does the the Supe. need to be released, but the entire board needs to be thoroughly vetted and if found to be complicit through their inactions then they need to go! Things like this don’t happen overnight they are the result of willful negligence and neglect over an extended period of time. Only new leadership at the executive level can hope to remedy the situation. Unfortunately, if it is as bad as this article reads, I don’t know who would want to step into this mess.

    Suggest Removal

    • Miss Scarlet

      I agree, but we (implants) are lured into Franklin’s small town aesthetic charm that the city so lovingly sells itself on, we are deceived into believing Franklin is charming. Until we buy our homes and settle with our families and try to become involved with the politics, either school or city. The whole political system needs to be cleaned up. I am afraid until that happens, Franklin will continue to sink.

      I have heard the school system was at one time far better than it’s current state. My children have attended Franklin City schools when they were not accredited at least half the time we lived here. It wasn’t until other families moved into Franklin that the SOL scores went up and we became accredited.

      Suggest Removal

  • Miss Scarlet

    I got as far as Mr. Sauntleroy’s statement about he “if wanted his daughter exposed to this, he would’ve enrolled her in ANY school In New York.” Not that this is the focus, however, I graduated from a New York State accredited school before they offered what we now call state Regents diplomas with a very good education. I hope he wasn’t talking about the entire state when he made that comment.

    I also do not believe the answer to having a good school system is pulling your child out and placing them into another school system altogether to help strength another school districts accreditation. Doesn’t the state accredit schools according to SOL scores? What good is it going to do if parents are yanking their children out and blaming it on “the schools.” In my opinion, parents should be blaming it on demographics. The more families we invite into our community the better the chance to strengthen our school system.

    Suggest Removal

  • 23851

    “I am hoping we can get our school system up to par and I am hoping we can bring some of our students back and our parents,” Fillhart said Wednesday.

    No knock towards Fillhart by any means. But this is the exact attitude that is punishing the children of Franklin, Southampton, and Isle of Wight county.

    The term “par” means even. Why do we want to settle with even and mediocracy? This country has no place for “par” and mediocracy anymore. There are too many mediocre people in this world and there is no place for anymore. There are not enough jobs for mediocre people. It takes something more than mediocre to survive and prosper in this world today. The attitude should be strive towards “excellence”. The key term here is excel. It takes excelling to be successful. I for one do not want my child being taught up to “par” standards at any school system.

    It starts at the top. Change needs to happen. Dr. Belle shouldn’t be “waiting” on direction from the state. She needs to direct the teachers/leadership into some other direction. Waiting won’t cut it. There is no time to wait.

    Suggest Removal

    • wahoohick

      Any school system is measured by the leader it has. Bad leader, bad system. Good leader, good system. It starts at the top.

      Suggest Removal

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