Gallon Gets Kudos at First Meeting
“It’s our time,” was all board member Lenny Cathcart could say, after Gallon outlined a strategic planning process intended to turn the district around.
Past board president Patricia Barksdale, also emotional, said Gallon’s plan meant the district “will no longer be a joke.”
“What you’re bringing to this district is a legacy,” Board President Bridget Rivers said.
Gallon dazzled both the board and about 35 others at Tuesday’s meeting with his plan listing “learning outcomes, Human Resources, business practices, the learning environment and community and family engagement“ as priorities. But he said all stakeholders – parents, students, school staff, community members and students – must sign on to the plan.
“If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will take you there,” Gallon said.
He noted a three-day intensive retreat with administrators this week will yield results for years ahead. The outcome of the retreat will be given to the board, which will hold its own retreat from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday in the Emerson Swing School at 1700 West Front Street.
Gallon’s stated buzz words for any district issue are to determine what is “tangible and measurable.”
On the job only one week, Gallon revealed a plan to halt the exodus of young students from the district, presenting statistics that showed, among other things, the loss of 5th grade students from Cook and Cedarbrook schools in 2006-07 was 32 percent.
The two schools will begin expanding from the traditional K-5 model to K-8 grade configurations, in part to stem the drop-off rate at middle school or below and also to explore a new K-8 model for urban districts that takes into account the needs of young adolescents for self-esteem and stability.
The plan may go district-wide in the future. Its selling points are that it offers choices to parents who do not want their children to enter middle school, for fear of violence and other strains. The district is already competing with private and charter schools for young adolescent students.
Principals Frank Asante and Doris Williams gave a presentation on the plan, which calls for the addition of grade 6 in the coming school year. Williams said she surveyed Cook School parents and students to get their views on the change. Parents who want their children to go on to middle school may do so, and children from other schools may take part in the new plan if there is room. Asante said at Cedarbrook he wants to “put the onus on the community” and wants the sixth graders to feel “exclusive” and “special.”
In a facilities projects update, Gallon deferred to School Board Secretary/ Business Administrator Gary Ottmann, who said a new state funding formula allowed only for additions and renovations at Woodland School.
Cathcart noted a past list of school construction priorities and said he hoped new middle school was a priority. But Ottmann said in this first round of new funding, only Woodland was included.
In a discussion of what the district can do for a group of students who did not graduate, Gallon invoked his mantra of knowing what is tangible and measurable. The issue was raised by board member Wilma Campbell, who chairs the Curriculum & Instruction committee. After listening to the concerns, Gallon noted the number of students was not known nor could anyone state the district’s legal obligation to students who don’t graduate. A summer school plan could hardly be mounted in July without knowing the cost, staff availability and other facts. Even the possibility of catching up through a computer program was nebulous, and having the failed graduates return in September needed more research.
For that concern or any other, Gallon called for a “systemic” approach.
“We don’t want to be chasing the wind,” he said.
During the evening, board members expressed relief at having Gallon in charge of the district. Rasheed Abdul-Haqq said he recalled a district credo from the 1990s: We can successfully teach all children. He said people believed it, but it wasn’t carried out.
“Now we have someone who believes it and can provide the leadership,” Abdul-Haqq said.
Gallon said as he holds himself accountable, all need to be accountable.
“I guarantee I will do my part if you give me that same guarantee,” he said.