Archived Story

Residents demand change in schools

Published 10:24am Wednesday, October 23, 2013

FRANKLIN—Many people in the public want a change in leadership at the schools or a change in the way the schools are being led, and they have been wondering what the city could do.

So city leaders brought in Roger C. Wiley of Hefty & Wiley, P.C., in Richmond, who has a background in local government. He talked about what the city could and could not do in regard to the Franklin City Public School District Board.

Wiley said by law, the city is “pretty much” limited to appropriating funds to the school board, with the additional responsibility of appointing school board members.

“I was asked the hypothetical question, ‘Would council have the power to remove a member because of this perceived under-performance?’ The general answer is probably not,” said Wiley.

He said that in instances of malfeasance or the commission of a criminal act, the council would have the power to petition a circuit court to remove someone with a majority vote from the council.

Beyond that, the control is limited to appropriation. It can attempt to not fund projects it disagrees with by reducing what is given in specific amounts. But the school board does have the power to move around money to fund whatever it desires.

The city council has no direct power over the performance of employees or any aspects of school management. But, Wiley said, that they have not lost their voice.

“You can certainly express your opinion,” he said.

He said the best option was to have a face-to-face open discussion on what the school board is planning to do, which the city has scheduled for Wednesday, Oct. 30, at 6:30 p.m., at a venue to be determined.

During the citizens’ forum, former school board member David Benton asked the audience how many people had children or grandchildren in the Franklin School System other than himself. Six people stood counting himself.

“There are, and I don’t have the exact number, around 1,300 children in the school system, and six parents thought enough to come tonight,” Benton said. “That’s the problem we face. The challenge for the administration, for the teachers, for the PTA, for everyone, is to try to reach parents who do not place true value on the education of our children.”

Diane Tobin said that teachers do not have the manpower to teach children one on one, but programs like Book Buddy enabled community members to do so.

“I have been volunteering at S.P. Morton, as a book buddy, this is my third year, and it has been one of the joys of my life,” she said. “To see one child look at me, and put the correct ‘S’ on the word, and it sounds like a plural word — it is great.”

She added that a person does not have to have a background in education because the program director provides all the materials that people need.

Despite how the program helps, Tobin said, there are only around eight people who volunteer for it.

“Some of these kids need one-on-one support,” she said. “The parents get up early, and they go to Smithfield or Suffolk or Norfolk to work, and mom is tired after cooking supper. But there are people out there in Franklin who don’t have a lot to do who should care and want to help with these kids.”

Benton said he respects that a lot of parents work hard and are tired, but he still thinks they could do more.

“I stay up at night and I do homework, even though my eyes are glazing over,” he said. “I don’t want to, but I do. Sometimes you have to bite the bullet. You do it because you care about your children and you want them to succeed.”

Benton said he knows the teachers are working hard, but instead of going forward, the schools are going backward, and for that, he thinks it is the leadership.

“We need some change in leadership,” he said. “What we are doing is just not getting it done right now.”

Asa Johnson of the Village at Woods Edge and Lynne Hubbard Rabil brought a different perspective. They do not have children in the system, but they care about the community.

Johnson said the Village is having difficulty hiring waiting staff.

“It is an ideal place for young people in high school to come wait tables,” he said. “But if they come in, if they can’t fill out an application, if they can’t spell the words we ask them to spell, or if they come in and look terrible or are not properly attired, we turn them away. I expect other local employers are having the same problem.”

He also worried about economic development. An honest answer about how the schools are doing would turn many businesses away, he said.

“Businesses wanting to open here turn away when they hear about the low scores and the low achievement,” he said.

Young people are not moving to Franklin, Johnson said, and he said the school system failing is not helping that.

“I’ve heard realtors say that if you move here, to put your children in private schools,” he said. “That’s a terrible indictment of the system.”

Johnson said he does not think it is money or the teachers.

“I am a member of a board on a local foundation, as is Edna King, the school chairperson,” he said. “Over the past 10 years, the foundation has given the schools $1.5 million. I don’t think we’ve gotten a good return on that money, if the SOL test scores are a good indication.”

Johnson said Village residents pay $100,000 in real estate taxes, $9,000 to $10,000 in sales tax, a lot of which goes to support schools. There are 78 employees and a payroll of $1.7 million. And all of this will go away if people are not around to move in. Johnson said he loves the Village and the City of Franklin.

“I wasn’t born here, but I’ll probably die here,” he said. “I want to make sure that our schools don’t kill the city. I want our leaders to do something, and hurry up about it.”

Rabil said it is easy to blame poor parenting, lack of money, teacher turnover or those that came before. She also said it was easy for the schools to tell parents to ignore the bad news.

“I think parents have to be confused, because otherwise, we would be screaming for change,” she said. “I believe both Dr. Belle and Mrs. King want success. But success takes long, hard hours of pure dedication. The likes that we have yet to see in the last three years. Hopefully, our school board will have the pure courage to take the steps to make change happen. We need new leadership… and we need it soon.”

The Rev. Ed Pickup said the system needs a radical change.

“We need to change the way we teach school here, specifically, for the economically challenged,” Pickup said. “I don’t want to sound critical, especially not against the teachers who have poured their hearts and lives into the children. I just think we need a radical change. Not just a step here and a step there.”

Joe Stutts of Franklin said he doesn’t have any children in the system, but that he got a great education from them in the 1940s and 1950s, and his children did in the 1970s when they graduated. He said that council needs to urge its appointees to find solutions and to hurry up.

“I am told it takes time,” Stutts said. “But children advance in years, in grade, as it is taking time. Are we saying that we can’t educate these children, so we let them go, as we are taking our time? Maybe we will do better with the next lot coming through?”

Ward 2 councilor Benny Burgess said he shared the same concerns as many of the citizens.

“I personally am dissatisfied by the performance and apparent violations of state regulations,” Burgess said. “We are leaving the children behind, as you all said. I look forward to meeting with the school board…, so we can hear their plan about what they are going to do to fix it and get headed in the right direction.”

Barry Cheatham, vice mayor and ward 1 councilor, said based on the meeting turnout of around 40 people, that when they are asking for people to appoint to the school board in the future, more than one person will come out for each ward.

“Volunteerism is important, and I hope more people will help out in the schools,” he said.

Ward 3 councilor Gregory McLemore said he felt as a member of the elected body who appointed the school board, that he owed the city more.

“I remember telling the council to resubmit for more names, to not just take it, but I was overruled,” he said. “The school system, as people have said, needs radical change.

“Franklin was the jewel of schools in the area. If we did it once, we can do it again, and it starts with leadership. The buck stops here. We appointed them.”

He said he wishes that he could say what the council could do to address this, short of saying there is nothing they can do about the leadership.

“I have a hard time accepting that there is no one to hold them accountable,” McLemore said. “I think they should be accountable to the citizens, or the elected officials at the very least.”

Mayor Raystine Johnson-Ashburn encouraging people to come to the Oct. 30 meeting.

“As the mayor, I am concerned with the situation in our schools,” she said. “The clear objective is to return our schools to accreditation standards. It is on the division to supply students with tools they need to be successful in life.

“We usually get very little participation as far as people coming out and being interested in our join meetings. I hope you will come and see for yourself what is going on.”

  • independent

    Your comments are very thought provoking Old Franklin and I am glad that Harris Rollins is having a positive impact. Ultimately, I hope she is just as effective academically as she is likeable and if so, I hope she will stay here long enough to make a difference. Yes, it is also extremely important for students at that age to like their principal.

    My issue hasn’t been as much about who we’ve hired as ‘just wondering’’s the WAY we hire. I have nothing personally against Harris Rollins, but still believe the board decision to hire her under the circumstances seemed very strange. Regardless of one’s opinion of any of the principals, in the HR report VDOE apparently thought it was also strange to move Francis to an even more challenging position while not earlier endorsing her for SP Morton. In this hiring decision was our board setting JP King up for success or was the decison based on other factors?

    Dr Belle has made the point that for the first time in years we don’t have turnover in two of the three principals. That’s because for the first time in years two of the three now reside in Franklin and have a proven interest in this city. I don’t think we can underestimate how valuable it is for the leaders in the highest positions to be engaged in the city.

    Suggest Removal

    • OldFranklin

      Some points well taken, Independent, but I will ask you and others to consider something I think Just Wondering might have been trying to get at. How will Franklin attract much less retain good people if we “try them” in the paper and in these blogs? There have been nasty comments innuendos and some possible lies told about Dr. Rollins. As I said before she clearly does not get the support from downtown that the other schools get. Just consider that FHS has about 350 kids and JPK about 250 while Morton has more than 700 with same or less staff. If you look closely you’ll see that Morton comes up short on a lot of things. So stack the deck against her, talk about her in the papers, pay her less than the others (yes I went back in TN archives) and expect her to plan to set up house and stay here? Rollins aside these are the kinds of issues we really need to know about, look at, and question.

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      • DBenton

        OldFranklin – SP Morton’s staff is MUCH larger than the staffs at the other two schools. Check your numbers, please.

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  • OldFranklin

    I have been following these stories but hadn’t read the blogs until tonight after attending the meeting. I have two children in Franklin schools now and one who has already graduated so my comments are based on my observations and experiences. There’s a lot about the division and about these articles and blogs that bothers me. Clearly there is a big problem downtown at the board office and much of that rests with the superintendent. And that has nothing to do with her race or gender for that matter. There ought to be some questions about the board and the city council also but none of those should be around race. But I do have a child at Morton so I want to weigh in on the comments about Dr. Rollins because her name keeps being brought up in these conversations and even in some old conversations and blogs. Probably the truest thing that has been written is that “she hasn’t had time to make an impact.” That said I don’t understand all the negative. If you know Morton and Franklin then you know she’s had an uphill climb since her first day. She has had her hands more than full with the staff she has, the children she has, and the mess that we know should have been cleaned up before she got here. We ALL know things and situations were overlooked and swept under the rug. She has gotten the fair shake or the support ANY principal would be due but especially someone new to OUR community and someone coming for whatever reason to work with our children. I have watched her and last week I asked her if we could just sit down and chat. I was amazed. She said “yes” right away and then gave me her undivided attention. She answered my questions and actually gave me information from the VDOE website to help me understand. Franklin, I know some will disagree and will continue to write and say all kinds of hateful and frankly racist things about her, but I will tell you that I have personally found Dr. Rollins to be what a parent would want in a principal. She is intelligent, articulate, attractive, poised and professional and she really loves children and they love her. And she is Black. Who cares? She came from N.C. So what? I didn’t ask her why she thought to leave Franklin last July. If we are honest with ourselves we can think of 1, 000 reasons why she would not want to stay here these blogs and the “Franklin jury” being two good reasons. My child is glad that she did and I am too! I’ve seen a lot of positive change and in time I believe Morton’s scores will improve also.

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  • independent

    The verdict is obviously still out on Harris Rollins since scores at Morton declined even more. She hasn’t had time to have an impact. The jury in NC was a hung jury regarding her effectiveness and who was responsible for what. Saying she exercised her right to give notice is a nice way to say it…when the notice she gave was in June. Hello?
    She was hired here in Franklin for what reason, by whom? Who vetted her?

    Aside from that, the point I was making is that racism is indeed alive in the City of Franklin…and the past school board was willing to overlook transgressions and issues in the current administration that never should have been overlooked and caused the dismissal of another. If it wasn’t because of color or sex, maybe it was the school board’s lack of will power or courage. Whatever it was, let’s do hope the current school board can rise above any and all racism of the past.

    The sad thing is that it appears we are poised to retain current leadership despite all if the terrible missteps of the past…because now we have outside help coming to our rescue. Where will that leave us when they all go home again.

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  • JustWondering

    To Independent, you failed your homework. While Dr. Rollins was in Hertford four 4 years as assistant superintendent for instruction the scores went up, up, up. She didn’t renege on a contract she exercised her NC right to give notice. If you did your homework on that division you wouldn’t question that. Dr. Belle’s original choice was like so many of her choices and enough said about those. They speak for themselves. If you know as much as you claim then you know Morton’s scores were going to pot for the last six or seven years while Francis was assistant principal, Spengeman was principal, Rabil was curriculum and Belle was superintendent AND many of the existing board members were on the board. So let’s make this about what it should be about which is poor leadership by superintendent and board and perhaps the city who appointed the board. Morton is ALL the better for hiring Dr. Rollins and we as a city will be all the better when people like you stop spreading racism. Can’t we, Franklin, get past that already!

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  • Councill

    A mockery of term limits

    Published Friday, July 31, 2009
    Tidewater News

    City fathers who adopted a three-term limit for Franklin School Board members believed — correctly, in our view — that nine years of service is enough for one person. The service limit would ensure a nice blend of experience and fresh perspectives on a board that needs both.

    The drafters of the ordinance setting a three-consecutive-term limit probably assumed that their intent was clear and that no elaborate explanation was required. Recent City Councils, unfortunately, have violated the spirit of that law and exploited a loophole that allows nine-year school board veterans to leave the board briefly and be reappointed, thus restarting the three-term clock.

    A year ago, board member David Benton, some 18 months after serving his “maximum” of nine years, was put back on the board to fill an unexpired term. He now is being considered for yet another three-year term that would result in his serving 13 out of 14 years. Meanwhile, colleague Mona Murphy, the school board’s vice chairman, who has served for nine of the past 10 years, was appointed earlier this month to another full term. By the end of her term in 2012, should she finish it, Murphy will have served 12 of the past 13 years.

    The City Council should stop making a farce of the three-term limit and either rewrite the ordinance or rescind it. We’d prefer that the council keep the term limit, close the loophole that has been exploited and codify a minimum three-year break in service. If not, council members should go ahead and repeal it and stop the “wink-wink” gamesmanship with the laws of our city.

    We’re obligated to note, should repeal be the decision, that “experience” can be vastly overrated. Just look to neighboring Southampton County, where school board seats have become lifetime appointments. Or to Franklin itself, where, despite all of this school board “experience,” public school enrollment has plummeted 20 percent in a decade, taxpayers pay more to educate fewer children, standardized test scores lag state and regional averages, six-figure superintendents overlap on the payroll for more than a year, and facilities continue to deteriorate.

    We don’t mean to demean the sincere service of school board members, including Benton and Murphy, or to suggest that the board is entirely responsible for all of the problems that plague our schools. Our point is that experience on the school board isn’t a magic bullet.

    We’re reminded of the football coach whose optimism about the upcoming season is rooted in the return of every starter from a team that didn’t win a single game last fall. He might just be better off playing some freshmen.

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    • DBenton

      No one has been rooting any harder for the “freshmen” on the School Board than me, but recent test scores tell me that the team needs a new coach and a new quarterback. Poor game plan, poor execution, and poor results. Unfortunately, our children are losing the game.

      I wish things were different but, as a community, we must find a positive path forward. The current situation simply is not working for the majority of our students, as evidenced by test scores.

      Suggest Removal

  • Gloria2004

    Check out the vice principal Richard Wright goes by Ricky. He dragged my son from the 6 grade hall bathroom area to his office because my son refused to take a Sol test. He was not combative just has PPD.NOS.
    Autsim spectrum and has a thing about taken tests the one to dole out punishments Mr.Richard Wright Dragged my son by his wrist while on his knees to his office and sent my son to another school because my son viewed being dragged as an act of violence towards him tossed around some files that were out in the open and knocked over the vice principal throphy …because he was trying to get away from this grown man Autsim spectrum is my sons dissablity however Mr Ricky Wright has anger issues for a person in charge!!! Gloria

    Suggest Removal

    • chilimac72

      You make some serious accusations with this statement. I believe this is the wrong forum for it. I would suggest you look into why this Franklin administrator does not allow his children to attend Franklin schools.

      Suggest Removal

  • mileomore

    Why aren’t the parents of the FCPS students up in arms against what is going on here? Are utility bills, racial issues, or other things in their lives more important than their children’s future? If so, that is VERY TELLING about who must assume MUCH OF THE BLAME in this travesty. I know first hand that MOST of our teachers and staff work very hard… but, they do not get the support that they need – and deserve – from the leadership of the schools or the parents of the children. WAKE UP PARENTS! ACCEPT RESPONSIBILITY FOR YOUR CHILDREN… STOP RELYING ON EVERYONE ELSE TO DO YOUR JOB! If we are going to continue to be a nation who is a leader, we had better start changing some things… and, these changes MUST start with each individual. It is not alright to continue to have children that you do not have the desire/means/motivation, etc. to take care of. Parents need to recognize that many of the teachers are working tirelessly to help make a difference in the children’s lives whom they touch… parents should be even more committed, but sadly, many are not. And, that is not okay! It adds to the problem… and, does nothing to solve it. There definitely needs to be an immediate change in the leadership of the Franklin City Public Schools. In fact, it is way past due, as the handwriting has been on the wall for a few years. Hire a superintendent who cares enough about Franklin to call it their real home… not just a place to “stay” during the week and draw a paycheck… and, then head back into their real home where their other family members live on the weekends. That is totally unacceptable! The director of human resources needs to go, too… for many of the same reasons. And, the same for Mrs. King! As much as I like her as a person, she has proven that she is not the right person to head the school board. And, shame on those members of the school board who have allowed this type of behavior and lack of accountability to continue… and, those who even saw fit to renew Belle’s first contract. If they follow suit and renew her contract again this December, every one of them should go as well… or, at least those who voted in support of her staying! WE HAVE GOT TO HAVE SOME CHANGE HERE IN FRANKLIN! If not, we will not continue to exist as a viable city. In order for a city to sustain itself, it has to have citizens that care as much – or more – about it than they do themselves. To borrow a phrase from the late John F. Kennedy, the citizens of our fair city need to remember: “Ask not what my city can do for me… but, rather, what I can do for my city!” Just as is the case in our country, fewer folks are actually working to try to make this country better by making themselves better… instead, they want to rely on “the system” for everything… including caring for one of God’s greatest gifts: their children. I am appalled at what has been allowed to happen in our school system… and, disappointed in those with who we have placed our trust. IT’S TIME TO CLEAN HOUSE! WE CANNOT AFFORD TO WAIT ANY LONGER.

    Suggest Removal

  • Councill

    Before the White/Black Alliance City of Franklin Mayor Ashburn and Councilwoman Hilliard supported a boycott of Franklin school board members, marched in the streets for a Black womam’s job with the city, refused to reappoint a White school board member they unfairly deemed racist.

    They even endorsed and worked for an elected school board. As they used race to claw their way to controlling the city, Ashburn and Hilliard put a majority of Black women on the school board. These women then hired and supported a Black woman Superintendent. Today, the State of Virginia Board of Education has declared all three of Franklin’s schools to be failing schools.

    One question is will their loyalty to Black Chairwoman Edna King overcome their duty to serve their community?

    And another question is, will Cheathum and Burgess continue to support this racism?

    Suggest Removal

    • independent

      There’s no question that the superintendent, as well as the new principal at SP Morton were chosen for reasons other than a strong track record in education and a recognized ability to lead. There’s no question that a principal at Franklin High School was allowed to remain in the system (to this day) for reasons other than stellar performance.

      Perhaps those who have fought hard to promote candidates who have not been thoroughly field tested would be OK with a surgeon who was chosen to operate on their hearts, but doesn’t have a clue how the circulatory system works.

      Suggest Removal

      • mason

        It’s called cronyism, which is bad enough — but worse yet when the employees are unqualified or incompetent, all at taxpayers’ expense.

        Suggest Removal

      • JustWondering

        If you did your own research you might be surprised by the principal’s background. She has a record of improving schools in two different divisions. I did my homework, but I couldn’t find a similar record for the superintendent. The fact that the principal is black seems to be an issue for you and just because she is black you ASSume she is a friend of the superintendent and/or board members. Well, I’ve seen firsthand how the superintendent doesn’t support her so now what’s your gripe? Nothing but that she is black. Are we (Franklin) that petty and that backwards? There’s clear reason to bid the superintendent farewell and possibly some reason to bid HR and the board chair likewise and maybe even reason to tell the entire board good bye. But EVERY principal in this division has and does work hard despite the games central office plays and the lack of support. Don’t take my word; do your homework. If we get real who was the principal and who was the assistant principal when Morton was going down the tube? Hmmm, would that be a couple of WHITE administrators one who is now leading King? And her “proven” track record? Yeah that’s what I thought – real cronyism of the white variety which must be the acceptable kind.

        Suggest Removal

      • independent

        To just wondering….I know more than you you could imagine and my comments have nothing to do with race. This principal was in two divisions in NC…Hertford and Bertie…..and neither of them can be considered successful. She reneged on a contract as superintendent after less than two years…reportedly because she wanted to do mission work in retirement…as she was interviewing for principal of SP Morton. She was hired…..but did anyone on the board or in HR really do their homework? And isn’t it a shame that Dr Belle’s choice was over ridden by the board? VDOE obviously questioned the wisdom of that decision….and that is apparently why they are going to delve in and conduct an division wide review. It is not all about Dr Belle but board practices too. The board and chair are just as responsible for this state of affairs as Dr. Belle.

        Suggest Removal

  • DBenton

    The School Board needs to show some true leadership. Our children deserve nothing less. Why would the Board continue to accept the fact that our system is obviously going backwards in multiple areas? How much longer can this Board keep their heads stuck in the sand?

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  • shocked

    The lack of compliance by leadership is inexcusable! Unfortunately, Franklin will continue to struggle until the parents reinforce what is being taught at school! Parents have to be held accountable for not teaching children morals, respect, character, and the importance of education! My heart aches for all the teachers who are working long hours every week and the students refuse to take the state tests seriously!

    Suggest Removal

  • Maxdoubt

    40 people?
    7 Parents?

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  • employee2

    If someone at the top “signed off” on an official document that was known to be false. I would think that would allow for their removal. Unless they are not under the same employee handbook as the rest of the city employees.

    Suggest Removal

    • broman

      I think you are correct, they don’t have a handbook for these 2 ‘leaders’. Whoever continues to sign their checks is just as responsible for the continuing failures.

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    • DBenton

      Actually, school system staffers are not employees of the City of Franklin. They are employed by the School Board, which has it’s own employee manual.

      Suggest Removal

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