Published On: Fri, Jul 11th, 2014

Voice from Greenbrier Co. Board of Education

By Stephen H. Baldwin

Mid-Term Report Card

I recently asked an elementary school student, “What’s your favorite part of summer?” He grinned through lost teeth and said, “No report cards!”

While I could not disagree with his impassioned answer, summer is a good time to reflect on the past and plan for the future. This July marks the halfway point in my four-year term on the Board of Education, so I decided to make my own mid-term report card.

What has gone well? First, our new drug screening policy is a positive step towards making our schools safer, drug-free zones. While it does cost us, it sends a loud and clear message that we will not tolerate substance abuse by those entrusted with the care and education of our children. I am proud that we took action. Second, this is the age of the internet (whether we like it or not). The time came to upgrade the GCS logo, website, and online presence so that you-the community-could read meeting minutes, see our agendas, and participate in the formation of policy. Third, students have a voice at the policy table. They can actively participate in their own education, which benefits the entire system. Fourth, the number of attendance exceptions (high school students who request exemption from certain classes due to personal, family, or financial reasons) decreased substantially due to increased accountability. Those who need to be able to work or care for their children should be able to do so while also taking a focused class schedule, but those who simply wanted to be out of school must earn their diploma like everyone else. I thank the GCS staff members who did all the groundwork making each of these successes possible. Truly, they deserve all the credit!

What remains undone? One, our meetings will benefit from an infusion of hospitality and clarity. I’ve proposed several changes to our meeting structure (for example, meeting in schools quarterly as opposed to always meeting at the central office, adding “work sessions” to deliberate important issues, and providing visitors to our meeting with a welcome sheet) which the Board has agreed to try in an effort to make our meetings more connectional. Organizations are often defined by their practices, and by intentionally becoming more hospitable and clear we hope to build bridges with the community. Two, speaking of connections, our system is more fragmented than I would like. Perhaps simply because of our size-over 5,000 students in 13 schools spread across more than 1,000 square miles-we struggle to make education a team activity where parents, staff, and the community work together as partners. No easy answers exist, but as with any relationship… communicating more always helps. Let’s wrestle with the question together. Three, last year’s state-mandated changes to county-provided education promised more local control but failed to deliver. I dare say we have less local control now than we did previously. We must call on our legislators to reverse this trend if they want to see our students succeed. Four, and perhaps most importantly, we need bold leadership at every level-legislative, Board, county office, school, & the classroom. This is a new age, and we need new ideas to educate our precious young people. We’ve been 49th or 50th in every major educational category for far too long. The only way we’ll change is if we follow bold leaders in new directions.

Summer in Greenbrier County is a treasure – fireflies and first jobs, 4-H camp and PGA golf, purple sunsets and the State Fair. Let’s enjoy it, and let’s also use this precious time to envision an even brighter future.

Rev. Stephen Baldwin is a Presbyterian minister and member of the Board of Education. He can be reached at Stephen.H.ealdwin@qmail.com.