Last week, Stacy Eidson put together an amazing and exasperating look at the Richmond County School System’s horrific reputation and the way it is playing into the public education choices being made by newcomers to the area. Specifically at issue was the way the dismal statistics were being digested by the hundreds of new cyber security and NSA hires that are moving into the region in record numbers. (The Reality of Richmond County Schools, metrospirit.com/reality-richmond-county-schools)
In the middle of Stacy’s interview with system superintendent Dr. Angela Pringle, the school chief had this rather odd observation to share:
“I think I have identified it over and over and over,” Pringle said. “There is the same curriculum. We pretty much use the same hiring process for teachers and staff, and we use the same assessments. But the difference is when you really look at the children, the support that they need to reach and access that curriculum varies from school to school.”
Some of the students in the lower-performing schools simply don’t have a strong support system at home, she said. “The children at Jenkins-White, the children at Wilkinson Gardens, the children at Meadowbrook have a totally different set of support systems than the children at some of higher-performing schools,” Pringle said. “It is just amazing to me.”
If that was a surprise, Dr. Pringle, you certainly can’t blame me for keeping the secret. I have been preaching that sermon for 25 years, and I specifically warned you about this issue in a rather exhaustive letter printed right here, exactly three years ago, on the occasion of your hire. Since you now have a new three-year contract, I am reposting the letter in the hopes that in your second term, you are finally armed with the experience to aggressively seek answers to the problems you now know exist.
Professional educators have long dodged acknowledging this issue, because the instant they do, they admit that they have a problem that no amount of government spending can fix.
Dear Dr. Pringle,
First of all, welcome to our fine community. I recommend the barbecue at Sconyers, the crawfish étouffée at French Market Grille, the coffee at The Metro, and the cold beer at Stillwater Tap Room.
You may need a few of those beers.
You will find that the serious-minded people of the CSRA will back you in just about any sensible initiative intended to “right the ship” that is the Richmond County School system, but there are a few slowpokes who are gonna throw up speed bumps.
As our new Superintendent, you have inherited a mixed bag.
The good news is, you have (mostly) good people, a well-built (mostly) infrastructure, and some very eager school board members who want to see the system return to its former place at the top of the local education hierarchy.
A few months back, your BOE president, Venus Cain, hit the nail on the head when she said that the parents in Richmond County need to do a better job with their children at home so that the schools can perform to their potential. Hear, hear!
My wife taught for several years in a Richmond County school before she was recruited to Columbia County. She tells me the parental involvement and concern at Glenn Hills High School was dismal compared to what it is at Greenbrier High School. Yes, I understand there is a great economic disparity between the two districts involved, but there doesn’t seem to be a lack of parental involvement at your magnet schools, and there is great economic diversity among those parents.
My wife Bobbie saw first hand that while there were plenty of good kids at Glenn Hills, most were not being prepared at home with the necessary support and encouragement young people (particularly teenagers) need in these challenging times. She was deeply involved with these students; outside her normal classroom duties, she was the varsity cheerleading coach. She got a better view of what their lives were like than most teachers, and what she saw was not good.
Her assessment of the support her students were not getting from their families?
As a professionally trained educator, you know far better than most that the biggest problem in education today is not funding, inadequate instruction or poor facilities; it is quite simply the uncooperative and disruptive students created by substandard parents.
While serious discipline problems do exist in Richmond County, fortunately they are isolated and fairly easy to handle when they occur. The troublemakers are removed, case closed.
What is almost impossible to handle at the classroom level (particularly in middle and high school), is an unprepared, lethargic or apathetic student. These are the children who have largely been raised on “automatic pilot” with little or no worthwhile intellectual stimulation at home.
These are the kids who showed up for kindergarten not knowing how to count to 10, their ABCs, or even how to clean themselves up in the bathroom. The fact that children are raised in such a way is sickening, and it is not lost on people of good conscience that these kids are laid at the stoop of the school on a regular basis.
This problem is systemwide, although some schools are hit with it far worse than others.
This is one of the primary reasons my daughter attended a private school. While her mother wanted her there for religious reasons, I was far more concerned about her proximity to children who had not been raised properly. Her school was not perfect, but there were far more involved and conscientious parents sending their kids to her school than there appear to be at many of your regular high schools.
The magnet schools are the exception, and perhaps theirs is the example that could be followed.
Here is a suggestion, why not set behavior and academic performance standards high systemwide, and then “warehouse” the troublemakers who clearly do not want to participate in a constructive manner? Federal law mandates that you educate all but the criminally convicted, but that doesn’t mean you have to have the malcontents sitting next to the kids who are putting forth an effort. You could call it a “reverse” magnet school, reserved just for those who refuse make good use of the free education the property taxpayers of Richmond County are trying to give them. Give it a try, it certainly can’t hurt.
I would also suggest a PR campaign that puts this message in the minds of every stakeholder in Richmond County public education: “WE WILL DO OUR JOB … NOW YOU DO YOURS!”
Aim that thought at the parents, as much as you do the students.
Most of us have no idea what a Herculean task you have before you, but I can tell you honestly, you have an entire region watching your back. Do what needs to be done. Pull the trigger, build the foundations, or, as some have suggested is needed, flush the toilet.
In the meantime, thank you for enlisting in the effort to make Richmond County schools a success. My grandparents, parents, aunts, uncles, and yes, even my daughter, are proud products (for at least some period) of your system. We all want you to bring it back to its long lost glory.