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Parent Calls for the Bladen County Board of Education to be Transparent

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The photo above is a screenshot of the Bladen County Schools website. It was sent to BladenOnline after the meeting by a Bladen County Schools parent explaining they could not log in to the virtual meeting from the School’s website. 

The Bladen County Board of Education met in a virtual session earlier this week. The Chairman of the Board called the meeting to order at 6 p.m. on March 8, 2021. All members and the board attorney, Gary Grady, were in attendance.  

The meeting agenda was not available on the Bladen County School’s website or on BoardDocs as of 3 p.m. on March 8, 2021. Usually, during the in-person meetings, the public could view a copy of the agenda before the meeting.

The Board recognized Spotlights and Recognition. A proclamation was read in honor of School Social Worker Week. According to sswaa.org, the School Social Work Association of America promotes National School Social Work Week, is held the first full calendar week of March (Sunday – Saturday).

 

Next, the Board heard from a Bladen County Schools parent during the meeting’s public involvement period. Below is the letter.

Good evening Board members…

 

I am Daine Smith. My wife and I have two children currently in Bladen County Schools. We’re a regular family; Charlotte and I both work full time, we go home every afternoon and do all of the things that most families do.  

We ask our kids how their day was and what they learned at school. We ask if homework is complete and if they need any help. We see that they have all that they need to succeed. We support our community and encourage others to do the same. We ensure that our boys are involved socially and civically in the community. 

The public library and parks are important to us. A.J. and Paul are often seen at the gym. Paul is an avid reader, A.J. an equally avid runner. We’re just an average family, one that depends on public education. 

I envision the Board of Education as a highly invested group of people dedicated to ensuring that our children are provided with the opportunity to learn at whatever level they are capable of learning. They are a group of people diligently seeking creative ways to guide and push the local school system to provide the highest education level possible. 

I picture a board that seeks public input, encourages parent participation, and considers parents a great asset. A transparent board that has a great desire to always take the high road. Our children deserve elected officials that will not settle for anything less than the best, one that considers mediocrity – substandard and has a great desire to see our children thrive, not merely survive.  

An education board that leads conversations at the state level and pushes back at the State Department of Instruction when things don’t add up is what my hope is for our children. We need a board that seeks public opinion and takes that opinion to the state, a board that is well respected by leaders at the state level and whose guidance is greatly valued. 

Unfortunately, my confidence in the current Board has dramatically diminished. Since March of 2020, this Board has operated in a state of fear. You have made uninformed decisions; you have discouraged public and parent comments. You have held virtual meetings in a manner that is suspect at best. 

 The Board of Education meeting links are not readily available. The meetings are held on a personal account. I have personally sent several emails to each board member, nearly all have gone unanswered. The email address for Board member Benton is not even on the School Boards website. There has been no positive change.  

Our students are struggling. Superintendent Atkinson said months ago that virtual instruction was to be as effective as in-person learning. To suggest virtual education for Bladen County students and teachers could be as effective as in-person learning is absurd. Students and teachers have been thrown into a position that is not fair to them. 

While the Pandemic has been challenging, it offered this Board an opportunity to step up, think outside the box, and find a way to set an example of what a sound education system could look like for students and teachers. This has been done in some neighboring jurisdictions.

Instead, collectively you have allowed postponed testing, curved grades, and lowered requirements. Instead of holding the State Board accountable, our local Board has taken the low road at each overpass. 

Think about the long-term consequences of your decisions and lack of diligence. Will our kids be well prepared for College? No, they will not. Prior to covid, were we a district that was scoring so well that we could afford to sacrifice a little? No, we were already near failing.  

Bladen County Schools have shown no trust in the parents of this county. Education officials have demonstrated not in words but actions; parents can’t be trusted to feed their children. Over the past year, the Bladen County Schools has distributed more food than some counties twice our size, which says you know parents are not going to provide food for their children. However, you expect those same parents to educate their children. 

You have rushed through the hiring of our new superintendent and have not been transparent in the process. Maybe Dr. Atkinson is the best candidate; I don’t feel that any of you could say that with any certainty since no one else was considered. Truthfully, it’s most likely there were several violations in his hiring. 

It appears that Dr. Atkinson’s hire was political, and he was selected before the departure of Dr. Taylor. This Board did not take the proper time or consideration in the tremendous job of hiring the next leader of our Schools. Your lethargic apathy continues to rob our students and teachers. Thanks to board members Mr. Rhoda and Mr. Singletary for their opposition to the substandard search for a new Superintendent. 

We need a Board that will stop complaining about Charter Schools and will lead in competing with them. If our children were properly educated under the traditional public school platform, there would not be a market for Charter schools. 

The state has adopted a new Social Studies curriculum. Have you reviewed this? Did this Board make a recommendation to the state on whether or not to accept these changes? Have you asked the parents what they thought about the new standards? Was there a public comment request on this issue? Are you committed to our children’s education?  

There is more discussion about roofs and roof warranties than there is any real, meaningful, purposeful conversation on the education and, of late, the lack thereof for our children. It’s most discouraging, and candidly, it’s disappointing.  

These things have happened on your watch. In my opinion, the actions of this Board are grossly negligent. Unfortunately, these things cannot be undone. So, what can be done? This Board can commit to making changes now! You can stop meeting virtually, start encouraging parent participation, start asking for public input, promote transparency, hold the State Board of Education and NCDPI accountable, and start making decisions based on our children’s best interest. Who will make the motion that the next meeting is held in person? Quite literally, our future depends on it.  

Thank you for your time.

Daine Smith

(910) 876-1798 Mobile

 

After the comment was read to the Board by Valerie Newton, the Board’s business continued with a COVID-19 update, a February Financial Summary, the Summer Testing Program 

The summer testing program is only open to students in grades three through twelve. The testing for students will begin May 28, 2021. The last day for staff will be June 4, 2021.

The Board also covered consent items, a construction management agreement, the school calendar for traditional schools, and the Bladen Early College High School.  

After those items, the Board went into closed session for personnel matters. According to the agenda, after the closed session, the board discussed personnel and DPI Licensure Resolution; however, after the closed session, the BladenOnline team could not hear what was said at the meeting due to computer issues. 

Listen to the first part of the meeting on our YouTube channel linked below.

 

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