BLAIR — Around 50 people gathered at McCrorey Liston School of Technology on Thursday to converse with Fairfield County Superintendent of Schools J.R. Green. This was the first of four town hall style meetings Green will hold this school year. From meetings such as this one, Green hopes to build a movement to change the culture of the school system in Fairfield County.
“It is in everyone’s interest that our school system thrives. You can either be part of the problem or part of the solution and there is a part for everyone to play,” he said.
Collaboration, trust, competence and respect are the core values Green emphasizes. Yet the former high school principal realizes that his vision cannot make the transformative difference if others in the community, pastors, family members, parents, grandparents, deacons, school board members, and district staff do not come together and work for the common good.
Signage at the school, class sizes and curriculum changes were among the issues on residents’ minds as they conversed with the superintendent.
When questioned about the size of first grade class at McCrorey Liston, Green replied, “We will look at the numbers. The staff was established before I came on board.”
Green said that staffing for 2012-13 will be based on a new formula but that he will leave it up to the principal of each school to determine how best the use staff members.
Deborah Woodard had questions relating to possible curriculum changes. She wondered about the way any changes would be evaluated and when.
Green said that the curriculum constantly undergoes evaluation.
With regard to innovative programs, “We don’t expect results overnight. It can take 2-3 years in some instances for the full effect to happen,” he said.
Green said they are considering changes across the board, particularly in mathematics.
“I like to evaluate curriculum, teaching and learning because that is where the rubber hits the road,” he said. As an assistant superintendent in Chesterfield County he presided over curriculum and instruction, so those areas are passions of his.
Are students learning and are students performing better are questions Green addressed. If not, Green said he would change course and try something else but to keep doing things as they always had been done would ensure the same results that always had been achieved.
Block scheduling was another hot topic.
Parent Marilyn G. Griffin asked why the schools had changed from a 4 by 4 block system where courses were offered every semester to a seven period per day block system. Green said that there were advantages to each system. A 4 by 4 system could make a greater number of courses available to students but the seven period day provides more variety in course content each day instead of having just four courses per semester. He personally favors one of them over another but said he would leave it up to the principal of the high school to determine which suited best in this district.
He assured Griffin that a very effective advanced placement program can be done on a seven period or a 4 by 4 format.
Green also said he had met on several occasions with the advanced placement calculus class to receive student feedback and that he personally encouraged and then required students to stick out the course even though they said it was hard. Noting that they will benefit from such rigor, he credited Principal David Corley for the course, saying without Corley’s efforts Fairfield Central High likely would not have been offering the course this year.
“Advanced placement courses are supposed to be difficult. But if you run from a challenge then you will never have a successful AP program,” Green said. “The students need someone to hold their feet to the fire because (we) know they can do it.”
Innovation like an early bird study program has been put in place for the calculus students in hopes that success will breed success.
Green talked at length about a problem vexing educators - how to best catch up students who fall behind during elementary school years prior to grade three.
“Lots of times a child will ‘drop out’ in elementary school long before reaching high school,” Green said. By that he means the child will check out and become averse to learning as he or she falls further behind in basic skill areas such as reading.
Green said he did elementary school observation once with a boy who did not know the letter r while the child beside him started school with a 400-word vocabulary. That child was behind double time and trying to keep up, according to Green.
To help children like that, Green is implementing a kindergarten intervention program including a summer school component for kindergarten students because if students can catch up by grade three, he said research shows that they will experience greater academic success. He challenged parents and family members to find summer activities to stimulate a child’s brain to help prevent summer learning loss, though Green stopped short of telling parents how to rear their children in their own homes.
He also reassured a mother in the audience that his office encourages positive parent-teacher interaction and praise on behalf of students in addition to notes being sent home for poor behavior.
“Students here are well-behaved overall. I believe in a simple philosophy that you have to change behavior from the inside out, not the outside in,” Green said.
Changing a student’s mindset can make that child want to do what the teacher or administrator desires him or her to do.
Green’s goal is to unite community leaders, mentors and educators in programs such as the Extraordinary Kings mentoring program that will help a student to see a future for himself or herself and to value the benefits that are being offered in the public school system.
He will hold more town hall style meetings throughout the county with the next one scheduled for Jan. 9.