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It’s time to start over

Published 11:48am Saturday, September 14, 2013

Today’s front-page story is beyond alarming.

It details the findings of the Virginia Department of Education (VDOE) that the Franklin School Board and key central office leadership have failed to implement a number of key objectives set forth due to the schools’ statuses as accredited with warning. This is a clear indication there has been a failure of leadership in almost every conceivable facet of the city’s school system. The information provided in the state’s reports makes it very clear to this columnist that the time for talk is over, and that the time for action is now.

Division Superintendent Dr. Michelle Belle has been on the job since 2009. During that time, test scores have plummeted, all three schools have lost full accreditation, and the employee turnover rate has been astronomically high. And yet after all this time on the job, Belle continues to deflect blame to her predecessors. But in this case, that is simply not true. The state’s findings are based on initial on-site academic reviews initially conducted on Nov. 6-7 of last year, and follow-up visits made on April 24-25 of this year, to see what recommendations from the initial site visits have been implemented. This report had nothing to do with the condition the schools were in when Belle was hired, only whether she had implemented the state’s recommendations and Standards of Quality (SOQ) in between visits. In too many instances, the state determined she had not.

The types of infractions documented in a letter and report sent from Virginia Superintendent of Public Instruction Patricia Wright, to Belle and Franklin School Board Chair Edna King on June 27, are simply egregious. They range from the fact that intervention plans for students failing SOL tests had not been implemented to the central office instructional leaders claiming they had been discouraged from spending time in the schools. Belle indicated those claims were untrue, stating, “We’ve been there more than ever.” Whichever the case may be, someone’s not telling the truth. In either case, it’s a problem. Moreover, this report was not made available to the full school board until Aug. 5; a full month after the superintendent and school board chair received it. Wright’s letter states, “The review revealed evidence that the failure of the schools within the division to achieve accreditation status is related to division-level failure to implement the SOQ as indicated below.” Holding back this type of information for such an extended period of time is unconscionable. The other school board members should be outraged, as well as the taxpayers they serve.

A separate report, written on March 15 by Dr. James Lanham with the VDOE, details numerous infractions found during a licensure and human resources review conducted on March 8 and 11-13. When questioned regarding the fact that the report states numerous employees were unlicensed or teaching outside of their endorsement area, Belle said, “That’s not a true statement. Anyone who is not licensed fully is at least provisionally licensed.” The state report, however, indicates that there were 13 significant findings related to licensure, assignments and reporting. These findings show not only that several employees are teaching outside of their endorsement areas, but also the fact that the principal of S.P. Morton Elementary School, Dr. Debbie Harris Rollins, did not even hold a valid Virginia license with an endorsement in Administration and Supervision as of the March site visit. The report also states her licensure application was not submitted to the VDOE until Jan. 23, 2013, six months after accepting the position. This is completely inexcusable and unacceptable. These failures in oversight fall squarely on the shoulders of Director of Human Resources Gail Wade, as well as those of the superintendent to whom she reports.

The infractions outlined in these and other reports all indicate an ongoing lack of oversight and leadership in the school system, and those responsible should be held accountable immediately. In my opinion, the school board should immediately remove Belle and Wade. Both have demonstrated an astounding lack of ability to effectively lead, and those failures have brought Franklin Public Schools to the brink of chaos. Both have done significant damage to the communities’ confidence in the school system, and allowing them to remain in place will only exacerbate the situation. And after removing them from their positions, King should resign. The school board has ultimate authority on all decisions relating to the schools, and allowing this situation to continue for as long as it has clearly demonstrates a lack over institutional control over the employees it is solely responsible for hiring. King is the head of the school board. She must be held accountable as well.

These types of wholesale changes will present other challenges, but are absolutely necessary if we are to have any hope of saving our schools. The time for discussing these changes has long passed. The time for them to be acted upon is now.

TONY CLARK is the associate publisher of The Tidewater News. He can be reached at tony.clark@tidewaternews.com.

  • DryRain

    I have been saying basically the same thing for the past couple of years. Glad Tony has informed us on just what the state had to say, because we cannot believe anything coming from the Superintendent or the head of the School Board.

    I remember when FHS was a blue ribbon school, I could tell you what the difference is compared to then and now, but I don’t want to sound that way, because the truth would just hurt thier feelings.

    Suggest Removal

  • DIESEL

    Agree 100% but don’t expect anything to change soon. The school board has demonstrated time and time again that it is incapable of making necessary decisions. Personal agenda and political correctness have blinded many important decisions in the past. What is best for the schools and improving them has taken a back seat too often.

    Suggest Removal

  • rock

    It is past time for change. Industry does not come in because of our schools. Houses cannot be sold.Our kids are going to the surrounding schools. Are we really happy to give our kids one of the worst schools in the state? Like a losing sports team, change begins at the top as well as we need change in our school board leadership from their no comment policies which indicate they do not have a handle on what is going on!Call them and let them know we have lost confidence in school leadership.We need change now!

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    • chilimac72

      Great point. There is peripheral bus stops that you can see parents sitting in cars waiting to drop off their kids. So not only are they running from Franklin, they are burdening the system for SoCo and not paying the out of county rate.

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  • bhmtn

    Well said, Tony! Citizens of Franklin….what are you going to do about it?

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  • thetownthatbuiltme

    Bravissimo!!!

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  • DBenton

    Thank you, Tony Clark and The TN, for bringing this complete failure of our school division leadership into the daylight for all to see. Recent performance is shameful, and should not be tolerated or ignored any longer. The community needs to DEMAND immediate changes! Anything less devalues our children, and their educational future.

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    • wahoohick

      Spot on Tony Clark and DBenton! Tony, you need to dig deeper. You will not beleive what you’ll find!

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  • A

    Hopeless Discussion….sad

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  • SlimPickens

    “I have a DREAM that one day, my daughters will be judged by the content of their charecter, not the color of their skin”.

    Where in that quote can anyone say one has to be black? I read it as not defining the right person by race, simply charecter.

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  • chilimac72

    Funny the race thing was brought up, but I will mention that the head of the NAACP for the region has been known to pressure school boards with letters. The “rule” is superintendent or principal, one has to be black. If these allegation are true and accurate, there has to be something shady behind closed doors as to why she is still in place.

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  • RWH

    Why is race enough to keep an inept person in a leadership role?

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  • Really

    The city/school board needs to stop hiring questionable individuals from other school systems. They need to set race aside, and stop looking for administrators/managers and focus on finding a qualified person who possesses true leadership ability. The school board needs stop worrying about being politically correct and have the courage to address the real problems, courage being the ability to do the right thing even if it is not the popular thing to do. A complete overhaul is long over due but must be done, the current regime is too corrupt to be effective and should be replaced. It is no longer about education, it is about people’s personal political agenda’s.

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  • stirit

    Now Tony! You must be a Racist to suggest someone be held accountable surly your racially profiling.

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  • employee2

    Thanks for the info Tony. People need to be made aware.

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