COMING TOGETHER: City, school board join to discuss actions to improve education

Published 6:45 am Tuesday, November 5, 2019

Officials from Troy City Schools, the City of Troy and Troy University gathered Monday at the Troy Public Library to discuss actions they could take to improve community education.

The officials met ahead of tonight’s community “Cradle to Career” forum addressing actions the community can take to improve education locally.

About 125 people participated in the first two meetings, in which residents split into roundtables to discuss what they saw as assets, challenges and opportunities for education in the city.

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The officials discussed their main takeaways from the forums.

“Just the fact that we had that many people show up indicates that this is something our community is concerned about,” said Jonathan Cellon, board member.

The officials brought up a variety of values that residents brought forward, focusing on the value of the presence of Troy University, holistic education focusing on the whole child, strong teachers, and workforce development.

One of the main concerns they identified was communication of resources.

“Within the walls I think we know what’s going on,” said Stephanie Baker, District 4 councilwoman. “But the community as a whole doesn’t always understand what’s going on with the schools. Sometimes somebody else is telling our story and it is not always based on facts.”

“And I think the community is looking for what is available throughout the entire community to children,” Cellon said. “There are a multitude of messages that are out there.”

The main focus of the meeting was actions that the officials can take to realize some of the opportunities and overcome the challenges shared by the community.

“I think we need to form some committees and pull everything from mental health to the city to the board all together to work on how we can get communication out,” said Eva Green, board member.

“We have to be able to tell our own story,” Cellon said. “If we, the folks in leadership, are not able to do that, we can’t be surprised when mixed messages are out there.”

“And it needs to be intentional communication,” Baker said. “Some systems have the privilege of having a public relations person who – that’s all they’re focused on every day making sure they take care of that.”

Board member Roxie Kitchens said an effort will have to be made after implementing new things to make sure communication is maintained, so that the focus doesn’t taper off. “We have to remain consistent and sustain that.”

“One of the big questions we all talked about is Troy University as an asset,” said Council President Marcus Paramore, who is also a Troy University employee. “We need to answer what is it that you really want the university to do? How is the university an asset? What is it that we really want from the university and what can the university really, actually do?”

Superintendent Lee Hicks said many things being discussed are already happening and that people need to understand what the school system is really doing.

“The problem is if you have a child some place else or people who haven’t had a student in the school system in 20 to 30 years ago, you just pass over it if it’s not relating to you. If you’re not concerned with it, you’re not going to look at it. How do you take someone like that and get them back interested in K-12 education?”

“We have to meet people where they are in life,” said Councilwoman Wanda Moultry, District 5. “The simple things are what makes things become tremendous. Sometimes you have to start at where I am and meet me there.”

The gathered officials discussed short- and long-term actions to take to improve the system.

“These people in the room need to get together more often to discuss what does the school need, what does the city have to offer?” Paramore said. “We’ve lost some real key communication between the council and school board. We make an appointment and then we might not sit and talk with them for another four or five years.”

“Our constituents need to know what we’re dealing with,” said Roxie Kitchens, board member. “Who can best tell our story? Dr. Hicks is more than happy to go to speak wherever he is needed to, but our story needs to be told by multiple perspectives.”

Hicks said funding is the major long-term action he sees necessary to improve the system.

“What’s gotten us at this table is funding for Troy City Schools,” Hicks said. “Our state funding varies year to year and many city systems have a local, steady form of funding that comes from local townships or cities.”

Another long-term focus is the renovation of Charles Henderson High School, which is the oldest facility in the system.

“It’s sort of like Frankenstein,” Hicks said. “Part of it was built in the 60s, 70s, 80s, all the way up to 2018. To renovate the high school would be about $10 million and to build would be $30 to $40 million. It’s serving its purpose, but like with anything else, it is getting aged. One of the best things to bring in more people is facilities.”

The actions and outcomes of the Cradle to Career forum will be held today from 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. at the Troy Recreation Center. Childcare and light refreshments will be provided.

The forum will review the themes of the first two meetings, including increasing opportunities for parental involvement, diversifying after school programs, focusing on workforce development, capitalizing on existing assets and promoting communication, and addressing community mental health and wellbeing.

During the second half of the forum, groups will discuss what actions and projects they can commit to taking on to improve the system.