Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

October 19, 2013

Community forum a great way to involve parents and friends in education


Bluefield Daily Telegraph

— — Speaking up and being heard was foremost on the agenda in Tazewell Thursday night when new school superintendent Dr. Michaelene Meyer initiated a community forum for local citizens. It is a wonderful idea and I am proud of Dr. Meyer for making it happen.

Along with fellow teachers Vera Austin and Constance Hall, I volunteered for the high school general session led by our lead administrator Cynthia Beavers, to  listen as well as help to list the key topics that our parents and other friends had on their minds. They were also asked to prioritize these items and then to suggest possible strategies or solutions to help the school system improve.

Dr. Meyer, in fact, made a good point with the audience about finding out the truth about situations. She explained that to help make improvements we should be certain of the facts before we speak. Good point.

Almost without exception, the parents we heard from in our school district area are totally tired of what they perceive as the excessive standardized testing that the Commonwealth of Virginia has implemented upon the children. They said in no uncertain terms that everyone is stressed to the limit and there was no argument on that point.

There is concern about bullying in the schools. That was a major point of discussion. It began with the serious concerns about children harassing other children and then went on to include teachers being bullied by students at different grade levels in various ways.

That certainly hit home because many citizens have probably not thought much about such a problem but it is widespread across this country.

These were good country people from solid stock and they almost unanimously want more discipline in the schools. Several wondered why the paddle was ever removed from the classrooms. Many said that in-school programs do not work effectively and that unless parents are directly involved in a positive way then discipline is not attained.

A strong request for increased vocational and technical training was high on the agenda. These folks made it plain that we need to be teaching more boys and girls how to use their hands constructively, how to fix things, how to repair that which is broken. They are not totally in love with computers and instead wish we would implement more programs that focus on wrenches, screwdrivers, and other such tools in connection with the computer-driven industries of modern America.

In addition, our parents were insistent they would like to see more creativity and more “hands-on” activities to help the boys and girls develop better “real world” skills. That flew in the face, as several said after the sessions were over, of the testing situation. With the emphasis on the standards there is not very much room left in many classes for the creative part.

There were several requests to provide some type of alternative instruction. It was pointed out that children of various ability levels need more individual time to help them develop their potential. This was linked at times to the discipline issue with requests from some parents about providing a place for instruction for those pupils who have serious behavior issues. Nobody wanted to leave anyone out (no children left behind) but several did wonder why we do not have an alternative school.

It did not take long to understand just how little influence the local schools have in what happens in many of these situations. From the cafeteria to the testing issue, if “we” take “their” money — whether it be from Richmond or Washington — we have to play by their rules. Unfortunately for any county (not just Tazewell) almost none have the funds to determine those kinds of agendas.

As you can imagine, money is always the rub. If we in Tazewell or any other county could pay our own bills without state or federal assistance then we would be able to determine our own fate. It is a very frustrating situation for those with plain common sense who see that something can be made better if only the people who truly understand it would be allowed more power to do so.

A contractor told me once that people who design buildings seldom ask the custodians what they want to see in the structure. Isn’t that often the case? The folks who do the actual work are not often consulted in much of the planning.

Someone asked me in the hallway after one session why so many state and national politicians who are not even teachers or who have no education background except for the fact that they went to school for a few years are allowed to control American education. I had no answer for that one but I certainly share their concern.

Larry Hypes, a teacher at Tazewell High School, is a Daily Telegraph columnist.