Archived Story

Gutless

Published 9:44am Saturday, December 14, 2013

When it comes to decisions being made about the Franklin City Public Schools, nothing surprises me anymore. Nothing. And that includes the school board’s decision this week to conditionally renew the superintendent’s contract.

For weeks I had prepared myself for this eventuality. Beginning with school board chair Edna King’s startlingly clueless appearance before the state board of education earlier this fall, all the way through the laughable dog-and-pony show put on at the joint meeting of the school board and city council last month, it has long been obvious that this board was not capable of making such a decision.

In fact, so inept has their handling of the schools’ current situation been that had they offered Dr. Belle a lifetime, guaranteed contract, it wouldn’t have been all that shocking. Why? Because, at the end of the day, their decision to conditionally renew her contract had nothing at all to do with the superintendent’s performance and had everything to do with politics.

Let’s be honest. What the school board did on Tuesday night was vote to fire the superintendent in a few months. The three requirements they set forth for allowing her to remain are virtually unattainable, thereby ensuring she will not remain much longer. The first two conditions that must be met are receiving a satisfactory academic review and a satisfactory division-level review from the state board of education. Anyone familiar with the state’s findings following its school-level review this year knows that neither seems very likely.

The third provision that the school board requires is what absolutely puts a contract renewal out of reach: attaining an across-the-board, division-wide passing rate of 70 percent or higher on the preliminary SOL results next spring. Let me put into context how unlikely it is that such a score can be achieved.

Last year, after the final SOL scores had been released, Franklin residents looked at the rankings and collectively sighed “thank God for Petersburg,” as that city’s dismal performance was the only thing keeping Franklin from having the lowest scores among the 132 school divisions in the state. This year, based on the combined SOL scores of all three division schools in the five core SOL tests, Franklin’s combined passing rate of 57.94 percent is the lowest in the state. Dead last. Behind Richmond, which earned the 131st spot with a passing rate of 58.02 percent and Petersburg, which has escaped the bottom of the list and climbed all the way to number 130 with a pass rate of 59.64 percent. Dead stinkin’ last. It would take a miracle of Biblical proportion for Franklin to even approach an overall pass rate of 70 percent.

So, if the school board voted to stipulate such unattainable goals as its terms for renewing the superintendent’s contract, why not just spare the citizens of Franklin the additional drama and fire the superintendent outright? One is only left to presume that there is a segment of the city the school board is trying to appease for political purposes. Given all of the available facts and evidence, of which there is plenty, no other reason makes any sense.

It was just one more example of the gutless, spineless leadership that is ultimately to blame for the downfall of Franklin’s schools.

Johnetta Nichols, who was one of only two school board members who could be bothered to respond to multiple requests for comment on the decision – albeit by email – stated it was made for the benefit of the children, so as not to disrupt the current process. Yet I say, with all due respect to school board members Will Councill and Dawna Walton who both voted against the motion to renew, that if this school board gave even a remote damn about the children of Franklin, it would be doing everything within its power to blow the current process to pieces.

But it has become painfully clear that it does not. And as I look around I’m starting to wonder exactly who does.

The vast majority of parents, given all the information in the world that their children’s schools are failing miserably, don’t bother to attend school board meetings and ask questions. The city council that selected the current board is afraid to make a statement demanding accountability from the school board it funds, hiding behind the pitiful excuse that there is nothing legally they can do.

The business and economic development community, which constantly laments the negative impact a failing school system has on the local economy, has sat on the sidelines as well. Not one civic group, organization or collection of concerned citizens has come forth to make it known to the board that the current situation is unacceptable.

In Isle of Wight County, when a school board member was caught forwarding inappropriate emails of a racial nature, everyone from the regional television networks to the NAACP rolled into town like rabid dogs ready to pounce. While in Franklin, an incompetent superintendent and a cowardly school board have driven an entire school system over the cliff and the only sound that can be heard is the collective sigh in Richmond of “thank God for Franklin.”

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

  • mason

    Well-said, happycamper.

    And Mr Clark, that was the absolute best editorial commentary I have ever seen in this paper. Too bad our other community “leaders” have not been doing the same starting years ago. How our community has suffered for lack of genuine leadership.

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  • happycamper

    Tony,

    This hard-hitting editorial is right on point and totally reasonable and accurate. Thank youo for having the fortitude to express the facts as they are, and not to bow to the constant pressure of political correctness. It’s time we citizens … ALL CITIZENS … get over the fight based on politics and get on with the business of providing the best possible education for ALL our children!

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  • employee2

    Good article Tony. Spider you make some good points, but success does not have a color associated with it. The mention of the NAACP was to point out that an “inappropriate e-mail” brought all those forces into play, but failing schools draw nothing.

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    • employee2

      Just a thought. Would the reaction be the same if the races were reversed(white superintendent)?

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  • skooch

    This is what happens when people are hired because of politically correctness and not because they are the best qualified. It is happening in Southampton and IOW schools also. You hit it on the head spider when you said that the kids of yesterday got an education but that doesn’t appear to be the case for kids of today.

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  • spider68

    Mr. Clark, I sincerely hope that you and others of your ilk get exacly what you want, and that is a white walk on water superintendent. This is almost exactly the same thing that happened to a previous black superintendent who the likes of you and others in this area did not want.
    You gave your motives away when you injected the NAACP into the conversation.
    I also hope that you and others get the elected school board option that you want, because the vitriol being hurled at the people that have VOLUNTEERED to serve on this board is absolutely astounding. I don’t think you will get very many people to subject themselves to this type of criticism.
    I currently have no children in this school system, however, I have had two children and one grandchild to graduate from FHS. They are all doing very well. My grandchild graduated with honors, and is doing very well in college. The proper education is there. It is upto the parents to provide the proper foundation for their children to obtain this education, and I get sick and tired of this constant bashing of Dr. Belle when it should be directed at parental supervision of their childrens education.
    Now, too all who I know will jump on these comments with their negativity. Go right ahead. I have said what I believe and I will not debate it.

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    • happycamper

      So Spider, your mind is made up and we shouldn’t confuse you with the facts!

      Perfect! Merry Christmas.

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  • nadawa

    Tony,
    You are aware that I rarely praise any individual, but this is an outstanding, point on editorial.

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