Faculty Member, Dr. Herman Clark, Counsels
Norfolk Public School Parents
I have always had a special place in my heart for Norfolk Public Schools. After all, it was here that I received all of my training and learning. I spent 36 years in Norfolk as a classroom teacher (five years); reading teacher (three years); instructional specialist (two years); principal (sixteen years) and nine years as the assistant superintendent. One of the jobs I had as the assistant superintendent was being an advocate for the community, especially parents in seeing to it that their voice be heard. I worked with the schools' PTA's and Civic Leagues, attended as many meetings as I could on a regular basis. After retiring from Norfolk, I still tried to be as active as I could in some of the PTA's, Civic Leagues and Parent Advisory Groups. When the idea of Norfolk developing Charter Schools surfaced, there was an alarming concern from many community leaders and parents. The concept of "Charter Schools" is already confusing to most educators and there were many parents who felt uneducated in knowing how best to deal with this initiative. When it was initially mentioned that Norfolk would institute charter schools this coming fall, I was contacted by some of the parent groups asking if I would share some clearer meaning to this concept and how charter schools would benefit their children. I visited some of the parent groups and did my best to talk to them in layman's terms hoping they would grasp the true meaning of a charter school. It is my personal perception that a project of this magnitude cannot be rushed in. It causes for much planning, researching (by visiting districts where students were successful and there was a major positive impact on the academic and behavior performance of students in these schools. In our own surrounding school districts, we have very few charter schools operating in a manner that parents would "jump" at the idea of allowing their children to attend such a school. I tried to explain how a charter school differed from a regular public school setting; the advantages and disadvantages of students attending charter schools; expected goals and outcomes as designated by the school administration, etc. Many questions were asked by the parents, such as:
- Would schools designed to be chartered schools be re-staffed?
- How would the principal and other administrative leaders be selected?
- When will there be town hall meetings for parents to ask questions and give input?
- Are charter schools identifying students who are academically below standards; if so, would this not negatively label our students/schools?
- Would charter schools become predominantly of one race?
- Will parents have a choice to opt in as well as opt out of attending a charter school?
- What are some incentives for students "wanting" to attend such schools?
- What about resources, finances, additional personnel, etc. for helping to make charter schools meet the academic challenges for our students?
- How many years are expected for charter schools to make significant gains on standardized tests (particularly the SOLs)?
There were many other concerns and questions that would take many months to answer and some of these questions/concerns would take even longer. I definitely admire Supt. King for his efforts, and initiative in wanting to do something different. The belief is "why should we continue to do the same thing, thus, getting the same results?" Supt. King is a risk taker and one who thinks out of the box. My only concern is that enough time is put into this project to give it a fair chance of being successful, and most of all, allow an opportunity for parents and the community be heard.
How elated the parents and I were to find out that Norfolk has now elected to hold off from starting charter schools in the fall of 2013 and use this year for planning, researching, and holding forums for the community. I will continue to stay in the background and will advise parents and the community whenever asked.