Schools chief opens door with forum Parents, teachers seek comments on district changes

Published 11:50 am Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Tom and Ann Smith told the Vicksburg Warren School District superintendent Monday night the rigid schedule of the districtwide reading block is raising flags of concern for their 6- and 8-year-old children.

“My children told me they were not allowed to leave the classroom if they raised their hands and said, ‘I need to go to the bathroom,’” Ann Smith said.

The Smiths and about 60 other parents and teachers, current and former, met with Dr. Elizabeth Duran Swinford at Warren Central High School in the first of three “listen and learn” public forums.

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In response to the Smiths, whose children are enrolled at Dana Road Elementary, Swinford said it is not the district’s intent to restrict children from having restroom breaks during the new 90-minute reading block, an addition to the districtwide curriculum this year.

“We want uninterrupted reading time,” she said, “but that doesn’t mean that if a child has to go in between, we’re not going to let them. That has never been the directive.”

The Smiths said the open forum was an effective way of communication with the administration.

“We may have opened some eyes tonight,” Tom Smith said. “We’ll wait to see if it changes.”

Swinford, who said she was impressed by the turnout that tripled last year’s meetings, is hoping the forums help the public know more about the district.

She moderated the forum that lasted about two hours and featured an overview of new districtwide programs and 2010 MCT2 and Subject Area Test scores and accountability ratings, as well as a question-and-answer segment and mini group discussions.

The forum will continue tonight at 6 at Vicksburg High School and 6 p.m. Nov. 1 at Grove Street School.

“I think we did get our message across tonight, mainly clarifying the initiatives,” she said. “We want the community involved in the decision-making process. These conversations were very good. We clarified, but I also learned a lot.”

Retired elementary school teacher Debbie Freeman used the forum as an opportunity to question the administration on issues she said are affecting current teachers such as the requirement of certain teaching methods.

“I just don’t want teachers to lose their ability to be individuals in the classrooms,” said Freeman, who retired in 2006 with more than 25 years in the classroom.

Swinford responded, “I can support that, but my question is why are they coming to you and not to me?”

Freeman did not answer the superintendent’s question, but said, “The teachers want to please you; they really do.”

Information gathered from the forums will be recorded and presented to the public in April, Swinford said.