I try hard not to live with regrets. It's not that I don't have plenty of poor decisions I could relive. It's just not a productive way to live one's life. I do have regret today about a choice I made Tuesday. Even if this does not make it to press, in writing it I am freeing my mind to focus on the future. My hope is that you as the reader will do the same. After all, none of us can change anything that has happened before today, but we can make choices today that will make a better tomorrow.
Here is the regret: I spoke at the Board of Education meeting Tuesday night but chose not to express a few thoughts I feel are on many minds and are not being spoken. Also, after hearing (second-hand) some of comments that were made at the meeting after mine, I would like to offer somewhat of a rebuttal if you will. The underlying message I want to convey is to urge the board not to make any reactionary decisions based on Tuesday night's meeting. I am definitely urging the board, Dr. Whatley and Dr. Mathews to carefully consider any proposal or approval of embedding Clements Theme School within the traditional Clements Middle School. I personally am happy to entertain that as a possibility because I know the parental involvement theme works and hate for any rising sixth through eighth grade families to lose that as a choice here in Newton County.
My concern lies mainly in making sure whoever leads the school has an open mind toward the meaning of parental involvement and how that particular theme needs a leader who is comfortable in sharing some control with the parents and their organization. It also lies in making sure that there is a plan in place for beyond the 2010-2011 school year.
As I said Tuesday night, I do not have children at Clements, but have three in Fairview who will ideally be there soon. I led a great public relations committee this year who dedicated their time and talents to making both themes successful. We spent countless hours preparing for and presenting informational forums for both schools. We enlisted local businesses who donated their time and services for these presentations. We wanted both theme schools to remain open. Closing either or both of them only hurts the children who are the future of this community.
Now, please flash-forward to Tuesday night's meeting. If "do-overs" were possible, my comments might go something like this: Parent, where have you been all year while the enrollment was falling at Clements? It had dropped by 25 percent by Christmas. If you didn't know this, why did you not? If you did know this, were you concerned? If not, why weren't you? If so, why did you not make your concerns known then? Do you even know the primary reason for the drop in enrollment (hint: it was not transportation)? This is a parental involvement theme school so does that mean that the school or the school system is supposed to spoon-feed you your information or do you take some responsibility for being involved and finding some things out on your own? Since your experience has been so great, how many of your friends, neighbors or relatives did you try to convince to enroll with us? I would surmise that if the same number of you who are here tonight had shown this level of involvement earlier in the year, we would have reached an enrollment number the board could have supported in spite of the budget or lack thereof.
I have one last question for a specific commentator: how can a former non-president of the PTO purport to be in favor of a parental involvement theme school yet simultaneously admit she violated volunteer guidelines by giving hours away to parents who did not fulfill their parental contract (I should know I gave input and advice on the drafting of those guidelines)? I mean, that just sounds an awful lot like fostering non-parental involvement doesn't it?
To the BOE, I do not envy your positions right now, but please do not confuse this with sympathy. Unfortunately, this is all part of what you signed on to do for our county. You asked to be put where you are. It is a shame you do not get recognized for all of the great things you have accomplished, yet you do get local and national attention for decisions a few think were mistakes. Most of those few likely did not even take part in the elections that put you here, which just adds insult to injury. Such is life though. Many people have come to you since the beginning of the year about the loss of enrollment. My questions for you are: Could you have taken swifter and more definitive actions about the leadership styles not being congruent with the theme of parental involvement than it appeared you did? If so, why did you not? Was it a contractual issue or one of fear? With regard to the budget, what sort of out of the box thinking is being done? Have you considered every possible reduction or alternate course of action before closing Clements Theme School? Before cutting the middle schools sports? Before cutting personnel? Yes, personnel are your biggest expense. Personnel also are your biggest resource for the students and are financial contributors to this county.
I ask these questions of myself and the public relations committee: What could you have done earlier in the year to promote the themes? Could you have approached other schools and dispelled their misunderstanding of the themes? In doing so, would it have quelled the threat they felt by the presence of Newton County's theme schools, and actually caused them to encourage some parents to consider the themes for their children?
I have an opinion as to what the answers to all these questions are. In general terms, all could have done more, and all could have made different choices. Only each of you who are reading can answer with your actual truth. If you are not afraid that opening your mind may unsettle your notion of the truth, then you may be able to utter what my late mother thought to be the English languages most magical statement, "You may be right."