(pictured above: Dr. Bev. Emory speaks.)
When Dr. Bev Emory took her position as superintendent of Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools last year, the Ministers Conference of Winston-Salem and Vicinity was one of the first community-based groups she met with.
Emory reconvened with the group during their weekly meeting at Emmanuel Baptist Church on Tuesday, where she updated the ministers and community members on progress the school system has made and addressed their questions and concerns on a variety of subjects related to public education in the local sector.
First Vice President Nathan Parrish questioned the new superintendent, who has led the local district for just over a year, about what WS/FCS is doing to address what he regards as an “epidemic” of disciplinary disparities districtwide.
“Statistically, according to my research, since 2001, over 60 percent of the suspensions and expulsions in Forsyth County have been African American students,” he said, adding that that percentage increases greatly when other students of color are added in. [pullquote]“…The disproportionality is unbelievably overwhelming. It’s undeniable on paper.”[/pullquote]
Emory said many of the issues that Parrish referenced could be alleviated, in part, by measures that address other factors that lead to disciplinary problems, including literacy and poverty. Emory said she is already working to address some of these underlying factors, through initiatives such as a teacher workshop led by Eric Jensen, author of “Teaching with Poverty in Mind,” that WS/FCS recently hosted. Emory said she also plans to encourage the most highly qualified leaders to helm the district’s most economically disadvantaged schools and recruiting educators, administrators and staff who are more reflective of the system’s demographics.
“We really need to do a better job of diversifying the staff in this system,” she said.
The Ministers Conference has adopted a four pronged approach to its community activism, focusing on the areas of economic development, police relations, education and healthcare this year, explained Parrish, who led the April 8 meeting, one of several meetings featuring speakers connected to education this month, leaders explained.
Emory highlighted other developments that have taken place in the district since she last addressed the Conference in September 2013, including a diagnostic evaluation by the Broad Foundation, which supports the education of children in urban districts that WS/FCS voluntarily underwent. The recommendations made by the Foundation were underscored by the concerns that were raised by parents, staff and community members during her 20-stop listening tour last summer, Emory said.
Like the community overall, the Broad Foundation supported the idea of choice schools but decried the resegregation that took place across the district because of it.
“I like to say they’re unintended inequities … but nonetheless, they’re there,” she said of the pockets of low income, predominantly minority student bodies that have resulted from the controversial plan, which has been in place since the mid 1990’s.
While many have accused her predecessor, Dr. Don Martin, of implementing a plan they say was designed to re-segregate local schools, Emory stopped short of placing blame.
“I can’t focus on blame,” she said. “I’ve got to focus on, ‘What does it look like to get better?’ because all of us can get on that train.”
Emory also highlighted the expansion of the system’s Academically Gifted program – which by next school year will have increased its participation threefold and increased the percentage of African Americans involved from three to 33 percent – an overhaul of the Human Resources department that she hopes will bring greater accountability and better recruitment tools to the district, and the rollout of a districtwide technology standard she is proposing that will use county funds to supply technology to schools districtwide and bridge some of the resource gaps that currently exist within low wealth schools.
Bishop Todd Fulton, who serves as second vice president of the Conference, praised Emory for the work that she has done and the initiatives and causes she has championed thus far in her career at WS/FCS.
“Thank you for being a breath of fresh air in our community,” declared Fulton, the pastor of Mt. Moriah Outreach Center in Kernersville. “…We’re just glad to have you here.”
Parrish said he was also encouraged by what he heard.
“I’m encouraged by her engagement and by her open spirit and by her willingness to consider new ways and new paths forward,” the Peace Haven Baptist pastor said. “There’s a lot of work to be done.”
The Ministers Conference of Winston-Salem meets every Tuesday at 11 a.m. at Emmanuel Baptist Church, 1075 Shalimar Drive. For more information, visit http://mcwsv.orgor call 336-788-7023.