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BOE asks for theme school support

COVINGTON - A month after the Newton County Board of Education came under fire from parents about transportation issues at the new parent-involvement theme schools, the school board now wants parents to know they also heard their concerns about academic rigor and behavioral issues at the schools.

School board Chairman C.C. Bates said during the board's monthly work session last Tuesday that she has heard from parents concerned about the lack of academic rigor at the schools.

"I have concerns that we are going to lose people because we are not stepping it up," Bates said, adding that she has heard about students not having to study for tests or spelling words from previous grade levels. "Are we keeping our end of the bargain? I have concerns about that."

Bates said with innovation comes challenges, but she was worried that the school system was not keeping its promise to parents of students at the new schools, particularly in the areas of academic rigor and student behavior.

"We are failing these students if we don't challenge them," said Bates, who has a child enrolled in the Fairview Elementary Theme School.

She and fellow school board member Almond Turner also pointed out that this means stepping up rigor for all students and supporting those who are struggling.

Bates said she wanted to make sure the schools address behavior.

"I think we need to stand up and say, if kids can't behave in the classroom, then we've got to do something about it," she said.

This is when the parents also may have to step in, she said. Required parent volunteer hours are part of the theme schools, but Bates said the schools are more about parents and teachers forming a relationship and making plans for troubled students, if necessary.

Bates said she believed parents opted for their children to attend the theme schools after being dissatisfied with public education, and she doesn't want to fail those parents.

"I think this is a different level of commitment that might not be for every parent," Bates said. "I don't want to see parents leave the public school system."

It might take visiting other theme schools to see how they handle such "growing pains," Bates said.

"We need to do whatever we can do to support the schools," she said.

Fellow board member Cathy Dobbs said the school board won't give up on the new schools.

"People came to us and wanted choice. We've got to make it work," she said. "We have to inspire whoever needs to be inspired to get these things moving."

Newton County School System Superintendent Steven Whatley said school officials planned to meet with the schools to discuss matters such as these. He planned to report the findings to the school board during tonight's meeting, which is scheduled to begin at 7 p.m. in the board room at the NCBOE building at 2109 Newton Drive in Covington.