Dr. Beverly Emory, the new superintendent of Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools, is wasting no time in getting to know the community she now serves.
Emory, who took office July 1, is in the midst of a series of meetings with school system employees, parents and other stakeholders to learn about the system’s strengths and weaknesses and their expectations of her as its new leader. School system officials initially announced 10 meetings with small groups at area high schools, but the community’s overwhelming response prompted them to add 10 more meeting times, Emory explained. Though open to the general public, attendees were required to pre-register to attend, in part to make Emory’s conversations with stakeholders more intimate. The former superintendent of Pitt County Schools is expected to interface with 300 people by the conclusion of the last meeting on Aug. 22.
“My purpose in having these meetings with small groups was first to listen and learn,” she explained. “The other part is sort of research gathering … I want to have lots of input on what people think is important and urgent (to address) in my first year or two on the job here.”
Harold and Alicia Cone, who have four children in the local school system, including two who will attend East this fall, were among those who took part in the first of two meetings held at East Forsyth High School on July 18.
“I’m excited,” declared Mr. Cone, the pastor of Faith Harvest Fellowship Church in Greensboro. “I love the way that they’re having these forums. I like the way that she’s opening up to the community.”
Longtime teacher Barbara Peiffer was also among those in attendance at the meeting last week. Peiffer, who teaches exceptional children at East, said she came to the meeting because she was curious about her new boss.
“I’m just very interested to see what she’s going to bring into our school system, ideas that she may have that may benefit not only the students, but the teachers as well,” said the city native.
Emory posed three questions to meeting attendees, asking for their input on what’s good about the school system, what areas need to be improved and what they would like her top three priorities to be as superintendent.
Attendees at the East Forsyth meeting praised the school system for having ample enrichment opportunities for students on both ends of the academic spectrum, a variety of choices for parents through the magnet and school choice programs and dedicated teachers and staff.
Concerns ranged from safety issues – from parents blocking school fire lanes to unsecured entrances – to the resegregation of the school system through neighborhood or choice schools and overcrowding in classrooms.
“As teachers, we cannot effectively instruct if we have 30 of them with individual needs,” commented one meeting goer, who teaches in the local system. “…It’s not the right environment for education.”
The emphasis that is put on end of grade testing was also a concern for some in attendance. Emory said she and other leaders from the state’s 10 largest school districts are currently in talks with Gov. Pat McCrory to ask for a moratorium on high stakes testing. She urged those in attendance to voice their concerns to school board member A. L. “Buddy” Collins, who also serves on the North Carolina State Board of Education.
“We’re blessed that we now have somebody from our own board on the State Board of Education,” she said. “I would encourage you to make sure that Mr. Collins hears your voice.”
Shonna Alexander, an East Forsyth alumna and city native, said she attended out of concern for her two nephews, both of whom attend local schools, and an interest in Emory’s plans for the system following the nearly 20-year tenure of her predecessor, Dr. Don Martin.
“I wanted to be here to find out about Dr. Emory. I think for most of my life, Dr. Martin had been in that role, so I wanted to see her, I wanted to hear from her and to get a good feel for her position,” said Alexander, a General Electric employee. “…I am a product of the school system and I’d like to see it continue to go in a good direction.”
Alexander, who is actively involved as a volunteer at her nephews’ schools, said she was happy with what she saw at the meeting last Thursday.
“She was very open,” the North Carolina Central School of Law alumna said of Emory. “She seemed to be very receptive, very supportive of the teachers, very practical, not simply policy-driven, so I think that she will do well in the system.”
Alicia Cone, a guidance counselor at a First Christian Academy in Kernersville, said she also walked away feeling encouraged about the direction the school system is taking under the new super’s leadership.
“I was very impressed with Dr. Emory,” she declared. “I think she has great leadership and fresh ideas and I’m looking forward to seeing what this year is going to bring.”
Emory will resume her community meetings on Tuesday, Aug. 6 at Carver High School. For more information or to register for a session (if space is still available), contact Theo Helm at 336-727-2696 or firstname.lastname@example.org.