Whatley meets with schools over concerns

COVINGTON - School officials know the new parent-involvement theme schools need some work, but they have high hopes that the provisions at the schools could help the entire system in the future.

Newton County School System Superintendent Steven Whatley reported to the Newton County Board of Education during its regular meeting that he and school officials met last week to discuss some important topics, including communication, parent involvement and professional learning at Fairview and Clements theme schools.

In August, theme school parents approached the board with concerns about transportation and other issues, and during the school board's work session last week, Chair C.C. Bates asked that Whatley report back to the board his findings regarding parents' concerns about the lack of academic rigor and behavioral issues at the schools.

Whatley said focusing on some key areas should help put the schools back on the right track.

Communication is one of those areas. Whatley said the schools plan more use of the automated phone messenger system and also to keep the Web sites updated.

He also said the schools plan to have more parent meetings, use a suggestion box and find other ways to get parent feedback.

The schools also need to become more customer friendly, he said.

"We are always interested in school safety, but we do need to be concerned about how we greet parents and how we involve them," Whatley said.

To increase and enhance parent involvement, Whatley said the schools plan to use and establish more advisory committees to develop plans of action and ways to involve parents. They also hope to develop a mission, an objective and some goals for the schools and figure out how to define themselves as new schools and what they want to be about.

"As we set them up as parent-involvement theme schools, we realize it's not Clements, and it's not Fairview (as the schools also were named before) - it's a bringing together of parents from different schools," Whatley said.

With new innovations like parent-involvement theme schools, Whatley realizes there might be some necessary training.

He said the school staff plans to gain some professional development and other resources to determine the best way to work in their schools, which are made up of students in kindergarten through third grade at Fairview and fourth through eighth grade at Clements.

"The beauty of this is that once we refine it, it's the kind of things we can use at other schools," he said.

Whatley also said the schools plan to review their student behavior plans and look at student data from the schools they came from to determine if they can regroup classes based on academic achievement and particular needs, including the need for remediation or acceleration.

He said this might take some time, but school board member Cathy Dobbs said this needs to be resolved immediately.

"Time is a wasting ... it's September," she said. "You know the weaknesses and strengths of students ... when they walk in the door. I think it's time to kick it into motion. It's time to show the spirit of these schools."

Michelle Floyd can be reached at michelle.floyd@newtoncitizen.com.