On Monday, November 15, Dr. Barnett Berry, research professor and senior director of policy and innovation at the University of South Carolina, shared with the Elizabeth City-Pasquotank Public School Board of Trustees a national initiative for community education.
Berry is no stranger to Tarheel State. He spent 19 years in the Chapel Hill-Carrboro area and served on the National Commission on Education and America’s Future, chaired by former Governor Jim Hunt.
The community school is not a “flavor of the month program” that comes and goes. It is not rocket science. However, it challenges us to think more critically about the strengths of a school community and how we leverage those strengths to better educate and support our children.
People, simply: teachers cannot do it alone. We have known this for years. How many times have you heard things like “parents are the problem”, or “teachers and principals are the problem” or “someone should…”.
Should I do what I ask? In fact, we, the community, are the “someone!” We have to fill in the blanks, we have to decide what to do.
After speaking with principals in our district last summer, there was considerable interest in this initiative. PW Moore Elementary School staff are involved in planning this “reimagining” of the school and we will be listening and asking a lot over the next few months.
What does it cost? Most of the time, it costs time and the willingness to “do school” differently. It is unrealistic to continue to use the schooling model of the industrial revolution in the 21st century and expect a different result. We now have jobs that we couldn’t even dream of 50 years ago.
How many times have we heard that we are educating children for jobs that don’t exist? It forces us, as Dr Berry likes to say, “to dream big, start small and learn fast”. Currently, over 5,000 community schools exist in the United States, and none of them is exactly like another. They are designed to meet the needs of children in that particular community and region.
We need to start by looking at our assets, not our deficits. When I returned home after a long career in different places in both Carolinas, I noticed several strengths that we sometimes take for granted. At Elizabeth City State University, we have one of 17 campuses in the University of North Carolina system with us. College of The Albemarle has the largest service area in the North Carolina community college system. We have Mid-Atlantic Christian University, an institution that did not have university status when I left home over 30 years ago.
We also have one of the most robust coastguard bases in the world, renowned for its air and rescue missions. We can enjoy the rural life while being a short drive from the Tidewater metro area and a short distance from the famous Outer Banks. We are located on the edge of the beautiful Pasquotank River. We have new industries and continued revitalization in our downtown area.
Our state and national education systems are tasked with researching costly standardized measures whose outcomes we can predict based on poverty levels. Even though our children did very well on standardized tests, do they measure things like resilience, adaptability, collaboration, creativity, critical thinking, etc. Al.? No, they don’t. The questions in these tests are always based primarily on factual memories and have nothing to do with collaborative problem solving or the predictability of success in life. By working with the community and its resources, we can turn the tide and provide our children and teachers with the support they need.
I believe that we have the capacity to remake our schools so that they become centers of community activity and pride. There is already something to be proud of. PW Moore is named after a prominent ECSU educator. She and other ECPPS schools have a story to share and stories to write. All it takes is our will and our will to do it.
Dr. Eddie Ingram is Acting Superintendent of Elizabeth City-Pasquotank Public Schools.