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Parents: Lack of discipline a concern

031717ECPPSmeeting

Elizabeth City-Pasquotank Public Schools Superintendent Larry Cartner addresses a group of parents and community activists during a meeting on the district's reform plans for four low-performing schools at the Pasquotank County Library, Wednesday.

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By William F. West
Staff Writer

Monday, March 20, 2017

Thaddous Hooker said his son used to excel as a student when he was at elementary school, regularly earning As. That all changed, however, when his son enrolled at Elizabeth City Middle School. 

Speaking last week at a community forum on school reform plans in the Elizabeth City-Pasquotank Public Schools, Hooker said his son's grades “tanked immediately” at ECMS. He blamed his son’s academic problems on the school, which he said does not provide a learning environment.

Hooker said his son had a hard time focusing on learning because his fellow students were constantly on cell phones, talking and “raising chaos."

“I mean, he would go put his desk out in the hallway, just to try to concentrate," Hooker said.

Although he said his son is now doing fine as a first-year student at Pasquotank County High School, Hooker said he still sees students walking the hallways with headphones on, listening to tunes as they change classes.

“This is a learning institution," Hooker said. “Some of the things that are happening don't make common sense to me. I think we're losing common sense as the reason we're doing things."

Hooker said schools’ focus needs to be on students achieving excellence and meeting high academic standards, not on just doing what's needed to slide by.

“When you expect less out of them, they're going to give you less,” he said.

Hooker was one of many parents, activists and residents who, during two days of community meetings last week, told Elizabeth City-Pasquotank Public Schools Superintendent Larry Cartner what they think is wrong at four low-performing schools in the district, and what school officials should be doing to improve the schools.

The four schools — Pasquotank Elementary, River Road Middle, P.W. Moore Elementary and Elizabeth City Middle — have been targeted for in-house reforms as a result of consistently low scores on annual statewide testing. During a press conference several weeks ago, Cartner announced that Pasquotank Elementary and River Road Middle would be subjected to a “restart” reform plan, while P.W. Moore and ECMS would be subject to a “transformation” reform plan. Reform plans at all four schools take effect July 1, Cartner said.

According to information provided by Cartner, schools under the restart reform model could be subject to a longer school day or school year. The district also has more flexibility in how federal and state funding is spent at restart schools.

During both community meetings last week held to discuss the reform plans, Cartner heard from a number of parents and concerned citizens who said their main concern is what they see as a lack of discipline in the schools. 

Linda Speight said at Wednesday’s meeting she’s heard horror stories about teachers’ difficulty controlling their classrooms. 

Speight said one of her daughter’s teachers, after telling students to put their cell phones away, received a profane response from a student who refused the directive.

Speight said when the teacher again told the student to put the phone away, the student replied, “What are you going to do? Send me to the office?" She said when the student returned to class a couple of days later, the student was still defiant about using a cellphone in class.

Speight said the problem teachers have now is that students don’t fear authorities.

“We've got to get law and order back in our schools," she said.

Responding to Hooker, Cartner said he agreed that educators need to raise their expectations of what students should be achieving academically. Responding generally to parents who called for stricter discipline and more suspensions, he suggested the schools have to walk a fine line. He noted that for all those who say, “Put those students out,” there are equal numbers of people who ask, “Why are you putting kids on the street?” 

Mike Tickle, who attended Tuesday’s forum at the Debry Community Center, said he was concerned about student behavior’s effect on teacher morale. He noted surveys of River Road Middle School teachers showing declining levels of confidence in community support and involvement in the schools and in their ability to manage student conduct. As a substitute teacher, he said he’s heard way too much profanity by students at school.

“I am concerned about my community and the schools system,” he said. “I think we have to start with managing student conduct.”

He also urged teachers to fight for their students so they aren't left behind academically. He said teachers also need to fight to make clear to parents and guardians their role in ensuring their children do their homework.

Tickle said teachers likely won’t get all parents and guardians on board. “But, if we can get four, five out of every 10 parents in our schools system to take it seriously, we're going to make change,” he said.

During the meeting at Debry, Northeastern High School Band Director Wayne James agreed with Tickle about profanity being a problem.

“I have heard the 'f bomb' go off a lot at Northeastern,” James noted.

In most cases, James said, students act as if what they’ve said isn’t inappropriate.

Cartner said that unfortunately, students’ use of inappropriate language at school has become the “new norm.” As a result, educators today ultimately have to decide “what can we control and what can't we control?” he said. 

“Now, that may seem like we're giving up, but from our perspective, that's reality," Cartner said.

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