JONESBORO — Nine public forums to discuss “minimum day scheduling” were announced Tuesday in response to Monday’s school board decision directing Superintendent Edmond Heatley to a do a better job of selling the idea to parents.
The 90-minute forums — to be conducted across the district next Tuesday — are the latest response to backlash against shortening Wednesday school days by as much as 90 minutes.
A July 18 letter signed by Heatley announced the change. It was the first time most parents and board members had heard about it.
Eight speakers at Monday’s meeting addressed the proposed schedule change, made to allow teachers more time for training needed to implement the new Common Core curriculum. Educators and administrators spoke in favor of the change, while parents questioned it.
Callaway Elementary School Principal Marcus Fuller drew applause from the balcony when he said he was “shocked and appalled” to hear critics deride the shortened schedule because it might lead to unsupervised students committing crimes.
“Really?” said Fuller. “Is this what we think of our children? Is this what we expect from them? Remember, children live up to our expectations. I challenge our parents, I challenge our school board, to expect more from our students, expect more from our parents, expect more from our leaders and most of all expect more from ourselves.”
Representatives of parents’ groups also drew applause — from other parents — when they made their cases before the board.
“Do you understand the problems it will cause for working parents like myself to make arrangements one day every week for the school year?” said Reginald Scott, vice president of the M.D. Roberts Middle School PTA. “This is not an expense we need to impose on our parents during this difficult economic time.”
Mary Dewberry, president of the Clayton County Council of PTAs, drew cheers as well when she asked that parents be invited to discuss this before the schedule change went into effect.
“The issue isn’t whether professional development is needed,” said State Representative-elect Valencia Stovall, speaking also for the parents. “The issue is how it was presented to the stakeholders.”
Heatley responded with a brief series of PowerPoint slides addressing the board’s request from last week’s work session to show how the schedule change didn’t violate state or county guidelines. The slides showed compliance but didn’t placate the board, which responded by peppering Heatley with questions and feedback, some polite and others more pointed.
“It’s like a disaster, a train wreck waiting to happen,” board member Trinia Garrett said of the schedule change, with part of the audience responding in agreement. “I’m being honest. Did we get feedback from anybody?”
“No, I didn’t ask parents what their opinons were,” said Heatley.
Board vice chair Mary Baker suggested posting information on the district’s website and getting more public feedback.
“I know they feel left out, and I don’t blame you,” Baker said, referring to the audience. “Anytime you have buy-in from a community, it’s going to work better.”
Board member Charlton Bivins said he agreed that the public hadn’t been properly informed.
“I don’t think the parents understand the significance of Common Core, and that’s our fault,” said Bivins.
The most heated criticism came from board member Jessie Goree, who referred to the proposed professional development time as “Wednesday wind-down.”
“I thought it was all about the children,” Goree said, “But what I hear is it’s all about the teachers.”
After discussing again whether Heatley could be forced to rescind the schedule change — Heatley had framed the change as an administrative decision and thus beyond the board’s control — the board finally voted to direct Heatley to delay the change until the district could better comply with the “strategic goal of involving the community.”
“I’ve heard the public, I’ve heard the board. I will delay until I have come in compliance with the strategic plan, although I think I’m in compliance now,” Heatley said after the vote.
Following the meeting, Dewberry said she was pleased with the board’s decision to request public involvement.
“It’s not that we’re not for the new strategic plan, but we want to be informed properly,” said Dewberry.