Orange County Schools turns power over to public

Aug. 27, 2014 @ 02:51 PM

About 40 members of the community met Wednesday at C.W. Stanford Middle School to begin what could be considered a daunting task.

Among them were pastors, farmers, business owners, government employees, parents and educators. At first glance, they were very different.
But for the next several months, they have at least one thing in common – they are stakeholders involved in developing a vision for public education in Orange County Schools.
The vision, which will encompass the next five years, marks the first time the community has gotten this much of a say.
“Almost always the staff would create a vision and push it out to the community,” said interim Superintendent Del Burns.
But because an internally developed plan can be difficult for people to “buy in,” Burns said, the Board of Education decided to turn the process over to the public.
“It’s a bold step the board has taken,” Burns said. “They’re saying, ‘You tell us.’” But because the Board of Education is made up of officials elected by the public, he said, the public’s increased involvement “makes a whole lot of sense to me.”
The group was originally made up of 44 stakeholders chosen from community leaders recommended by Board of Education members. The steering committee that oversees the entire process hopes to involve high school students, although the students initially selected were unable to attend the kickoff meeting because of scheduling conflicts.
The stakeholders will meet every other Wednesday to discuss until they develop a decision they can agree on. In December, the plan will be sent as a recommendation to the Board of Education.
“It’s about as public as public gets,” said Stephen Halkiotis, board chair. “It’s really an extension of the electoral process.”
The two women at the head of the steering committee, like all the stakeholders, come from different backgrounds. Susan Waldrop is a Realtor, and Gwen Jordan is a pastor at Jones Grove Missionary Baptist Church in Hillsborough.
“[The Board of Education] wanted a diverse cross-section of the community,” said Jordan. That cross-section includes not only different careers, but also different races, genders, ages and geographical areas.
Penny Gluck, executive dean of Orange County operations for Durham Technical Community College and one of the stakeholders, said that one of the “incredible benefits to pulling this group together” is that varying perspectives will help create a school system that builds from pre-kindergarten to “a seamless transition into college and meaningful jobs.”
During the first meeting, the group got a chance to ask questions about the process and about the school system. There were specific questions addressing topics such as history, diversity and mental health; there were pragmatic questions concerning dwindling state funding. One group of stakeholders asked a broad question: “If we agree on a vision, will the Board of Education act on it?”
The stakeholders will meet every other Wednesday at 11 a.m. at C.W. Stanford Middle School. Members of the public are invited to attend and observe the process.