CHAMPAIGN – Franklin Magnet Middle School parents met Thursday to discuss problems at the middle school, ask what the new administration is going to do about them, and find out how they can help.
Sandy Powell took over the principal's job last month from Mel Crafter, who resigned after a year. She told parents that high expectations, extensive communications, physical changes in the school itself and other factors will contribute to turning around the climate there.
Powell said she was "surprised and saddened" by a June 15 News-Gazette story that outlined troubles at the school, including out-of-control behavior, bomb threats and other incidents – although she'd been warned about problems there when she accepted the principal's job.
One result of the problems: high faculty turnover at the end of the year.
"In hindsight, it was good," Powell said Thursday to about 150 parents and teachers, as well as five school board members and Superintendent Arthur Culver, who is a parent of a Franklin student.
"You have to bring your laundry out," Powell said. "But positive things happen here. We will deal with problems as they occur. The kids may be in shock when they come back, but we believe if we have high expectations, kids will rise to them."
"At the end of the year, come back and listen to our good news," Powell said.
Parents talked about how the atmosphere at the school deteriorated during the school year that ended in June. One said teachers spent so much time on discipline, there was little time for teaching.
"There was a lack of courtesy and respect in the halls for older people, and I think that was the root of the problems," said Ron Kenny, a parent who volunteers at Franklin. " It might be only a few kids, but it hurts the whole school."
Another parent said students took items from her daughter in the halls, and teachers failed to intervene.
Carol Stack, deputy superintendent of achievement and administration, said physical changes such as signal bells will be installed at the schools to control traffic in the halls and keep everyone on the same schedule. And Powell said she's going to introduce hall behavior sessions for each class so each student knows how he or she is expected to act.
"My children have been in the school for 10 years," one father said.
"We partied when one of our earlier students was accepted from the waiting list," he added.
"Now there's no waiting list. It's not the clocks or bells. It's something else."
A mother said things at Franklin got "more and more out of sync" as the school year progressed, and Tim Manard summarized the situation as the year concluded.
"I had a feeling at the end of the year that the kids had won," Manard said. "You're going to have some of those kids coming back. What's the shock and awe going to be to convince them things have changed?"
"When the kids see us follow through, they'll know things have changed," Powell said.
Several parents expressed concern about bomb threats at the school, lack of communications from the school about those events and especially about police action at Franklin on the last day of school.
Stack said rumors that circulated among faculty and were passed on to The News-Gazette about police officers on the roof checking for trouble simply weren't true.
She said the person on the roof was the building's janitor, collecting hats, balls and other discarded items.
However, Stack acknowledged that police were on the grounds looking for unauthorized visitors and other troublemakers.
Powell said her staff needs time to get the new order in place, and she said she's hiring 18 new staff members to replace teachers and others who left.
She asked parents for advice, help in hallways and classrooms and help in spreading the word that Franklin is changing.
"We can't fix what happened last year," she said, calling for a fresh start. Powell also said returning students will come into her school with a clean slate.
"Every child deserves that," she said.
"We're honored to be on the Franklin staff," said Shameem Rakha, a teacher at the school. "We love the children. We can make it work together, but give us a chance."
"The children keep me coming back," said Jean Eyman. "I'm a teacher, and I chose to be here."
After the 90-minute meeting, parents signed sheets to volunteer to work in the schools, share ideas and get involved on a regular basis.
Thomasine Pruitt and her husband, Richard – both retired New York City school administrators – were two of them.
"They're going to think I'm on the staff here, they'll see me so often," said Thomasine Pruitt, who recently moved to the area to live closer to her grandchildren.
"I think the principal has good ideas."
Her grandson, Nicholas Coombs, who will be a seventh-grader, said his mother's a little worried about what's happening at Franklin, but he's not.
"I'm all for the school," Nicholas said. "I like it a lot."
You can reach Anne Cook at (217) 351-5217 or via e-mail at email@example.com.