Parents explain poor turnout at Direct Line to the Superintendent event

mhankerson@newsobserver.comFebruary 4, 2014 

  • Be heard

    Still have something to share with Wake County’s superintendent James Merrill?

    You can email thoughts and concerns to askthesuperintendent@wcpss.net or parents are welcome to come to the last scheduled date for the Direct Line to the Superintendent events on Feb. 17 at Wakefield High School. Wake County canceled the Jan. 29 session at Panther Creek High School because of inclement weather but will schedule a makeup date.

— When Brian Mountcastle realized he was the only parent at the first Direct Line to the Superintendent meeting on Jan. 23, he felt compelled to say something.

Mountcastle had no intention of speaking that night; like superintendent James Merrill, he was interested in hearing what employees and other parents thought were issues that needed fixing in the eastern part of the county.

But when no one showed up, he felt the need to explain.

“There was no way I was going to allow the entire managemenet staff that represented the ... public schools system to take time to open up a school and come over there and nobody say anything,” he said. “My comment wasn’t apologetic, it was, ‘Do not take the fact of the lack of attendance by parents as we do not care.’”

The Direct Line to the Superintendent event was supposed to be a forum for employees and parents to tell Merrill some of their concerns. Merrill and other school officials are traveling to schools all over the county and their first stop was East Wake High School.

The school system posted the dates online and made announcements in online newsletters and social media, but some parents, including Mountcastle, said they didn’t do enough to get the word out to parents.

“The notification to the parents was not what it could have been,” he said. “Nothing was sent home ... (and) we've got this wonderful auto call system. ... I think that needs to be used in the future.”

Sherry Hayes, a parent of a 5th grader at Zebulon Elementary School and a 10th grader at the Young Men’s Leadership Academy, wrote a letter to Wake County Public Schools following the event to voice her concern over the lack of notice.

Hayes, who regularly substitute teaches for Wake County and is the secretary of the Parent Teacher Association at Zebulon Elementary, wrote that she only knew of the meeting at East Wake High through the local media.

“ I saw no advertising in the community, no information sent home from the school in Wednesday folders,” she wrote.

Tom Benton, the school board representative for eastern Wake County said he heard similar complaints. He said he wasn’t sure how the county advertised the event, but said there are several avenues individual principals and schools could have used to make sure the word got out.

“It was something new the superintendent was trying and I commend him for that but we'll have to look at more effective ways of getting word out,” Benton said.

Samiha Khanna, Wake County Public Schools’ senior administrator of media and public relations, said the school system has heard the same suggestions. She said sending home flyers or paper notices is a good idea, but there is not always funding to pay for the materials to make that happen and teachers and other staff may not have the time to do that for the over 150,000 students in the county school system.

Adjusting to new attention

Last week’s winter weather toyed with the schedule of the meetings Merrill is hosting around the county. But last Tuesday, at Broughton High School, nearly 50 parents attended the second of the five planned public meetings.

Even if the notifications were corrected for, Hayes and Mountcastle said it might still be hard to get parents to show up because the eastern part of the county is so used to doing things on its own.

Hayes pointed out that the Zebulon Elementary PTA raised money to buy the school SMARTBoards, a cost typically taken care of by the county. She said when the fundraising began, there was no indication from the couny that they would be putting money toward the school, which still had more chalkboards than whiteboards.

“(Eastern) Wake County is so used to not being heard, they’re used to taking matters into their own hands,” she said.

Hayes, who graduated from Zebulon High School, said some of that feeling might have originated from the county’s decision to merge East Wake and Zebulon high schools in the ’80s.

According to Hayes, the county held meetings in the east to ask for input, but they were little more than procedural. She said for many people, it seemed as though the decision had been made regardless of what residents had to say.

“No one really bothered (to speak up) because it was very clear that it didn’t matter what we had to say,” she said.

Mountcastle said he thinks parents in eastern Wake County just weren’t expecting the effort from county officials.

“I don’t remember a former superintendent ... getting in his vehicle and coming into eastern Wake County and saying, ‘I’m here to talk to parents and the teachers because we need to move forward.’”

Hankerson: 919-829-4826; Twitter: @easternwakenews

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