"We essentially wanted our community leaders to tell us what they think we are doing right and also what they think we could be doing better," Superintendent Bob Rowland said. "What we hear and record tonight will be used by us and the site-based councils at each of our schools in our consideration of ways we can better serve our students."
Rowland joined board Chairwoman Jean Crowley and other board members Steve Becker, Tim Montgomery, Paul Smiley and Marvin Swann in listening but not making comments during the session.
Several comments about access to technology
The wide-ranging discussion included several comments about accessibility of technology, including remarks from Danville Police Chief Jeff Peek, who focused more on his role as a parent than police chief.
"I have three kids, from a fourth-grader to a junior in college, and what has bothered me is that I've seen a greater dependence on parents to do a lot of the teaching, in terms of their homework," said Peek. "And this involves computers and helping the kids with their assignments.
"Since computers are such an important part of a child's education today, I'm concerned that there are quite a few kids in our community who don't have computers at home. I'm not a single parent, but I can only imagine how a single parent on a low income can provide computers for their kids," he said.
Peek suggested that the district consider establishing a special night-time computer lab for students who don't have computers at home or solicit donated used computers from businesses and organizations.
Ryan Montgomery, a social studies and American studies teacher at Danville High School, shared Peek's concern.
"Not having Internet accessibility at home creates a social stigma for kids," Montgomery said. "It makes me feel uncomfortable making assignments, knowing that some of the kids cannot do Internet research at their homes, and I know it makes them feel inferior."
Don Vizi, president of the chamber, said in other communities there are programs where businesses donate computers to schools. "They may not be the top-of-the line, latest models (of computers), but they are usable for children, especially in the lower grades," Vizi said.
Jane McKune, a Comprehensive Care social worker and counselor involved in education programs for at-risk students, agreed computers are important in today's education, but she said they should not replace books and reading, especially in the early years.
"Reading a book is an experience which expands the mind. It's a tactile experience, not abstract, in which the child can touch and feel what he or she is reading," said McKune.
High marks in several areas
From comments at the meeting and in some interviews afterward, community leaders and educators gave high marks for efforts by the district to bridge the achievement gap between minority and low-income students and other students; its rapid improvement in technology programs, led by a district coordinator and the technology resource teachers at each school; its mentoring programs involving community citizens, the chamber and college students; and Kids University and other programs aimed at providing more individualized instruction to students seeking to improve their performance in the classroom and on standardized tests.
In addition to expanding computer technology accessibility, here are some other ways community leaders and district educators believe the district could improve educational opportunities and performance:
* Reducing class sizes.
* Doing a better job of identifying at-risk students and providing the services they need as soon as possible.
* Making educators and district administrators more sensitive to some parents, especially low-income and minority mothers and fathers.
* Involving business and industry in the process of developing curriculum.
* Improving collaboration among teachers at the elementary, middle school and high school levels to make a child's education more seamless from one level to the next.
* Investigating the possibility of enlarging the district's boundaries to increase revenue.