Leaders agree on the goals, differ on how to get there

CorrespondentMay 13, 2013 

— Discussion of how Wendell can reach its economic development goals can seem like a chicken-and-egg question. Which comes first – new businesses or better schools – as Wendell works to fulfill its economic development plan?

Commissioners James Parham and Christie Adams agree economic development and improving the town’s schools will have to be a bootstrap effort, even if their ideas about how to reach those economic goals sometimes conflict, as they did at a meeting last month.

While Parham recommends pushing parents and the larger community into the schools to make use of their expertise, Adams wants to see a change in the makeup of the town’s demographics to a model that includes people who are more likely to want or be able to invest time and resources into the schools.

“We’re all on board (with the town’s economic development strategy),” Parham said in an interview after the meeting. “That is the reason we added it to the economic development strategic plan. We all are on board. I don’t think it’s moving fast enough for one or two of us. It’s going to happen. But everything right now is happening so slowly.”

Parham, who has a Ph.D in education, sees definite needs and possibilities.

“If I had a magic wand and could make these things happen, this is what I would want,” he said, listing additional resources for eastern Wake County schools so they are equivalent to those in the western part, understanding that “parents are teachers, too” and better promoting current successes at Wendell schools.

“I do realize that our schools in the eastern part of the county need a big push, and we (town leaders) are the ones to do that,” he said.

Parham sees engaging community help such as tutors from businesses and encouraging parent involvement in the schools as ways to prepare a stronger future workforce. He said his doctoral research, in which he expected college-age tutors to be most effective, showed any age of tutor – student to retiree – improved children’s performances.

Adams would also like to see more parent and community involvement but recognizes that parents who commute may not have the time. She sees a different set of challenges, including eastern Wake’s lack of accelerated education opportunities.

“That is something that folks are looking for when they’re trying to determine where they want to move. … Schools are one of those things in the back of your mind,” Adams said.

She hopes progress on the economic plan will encourage the Wake County school board to offer more advanced placement classes or a magnet school for Wendell.

“That’s an added incentive for me to be proactive and very involved as an elected official, just knowing that in three or four years’ time my son is going to be starting school,” she said.

And she would like to see Wendell “be better stewards as far as balancing our housing ratios” – owner-occupied vs. rented or subsidized – while pursuing goals such as attracting more Smart Grid companies to the community.

“That will be a great first step, a huge first step, in opening the door to better opportunities in our school district,” she said.

While the commissioners support the economic development plan, they see different paths to achieving the goals. From Parham’s perspective, Wendell must focus on what it can control.

“We can’t do anything about affordable housing,” he said. “The next step is to try and make the best of what we have. Get parents on board, get the teachers on board, get everybody on board.”

teri.boggess@gmail.com.

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