After escaping the controlled chaos that is elementary school open house, we soon were laughing and clapping along with the mariachi band brought in for Monterreys fourth anniversary party in Evans.
Then came the tug on the electronic leash: School was starting the next day, but nowhere in our stockpile of school supplies were the 1-inch binders my high-school junior HAD. TO. HAVE.
So a short time later there I was, at nearly 10 p.m. the night before the first day of school, searching Evans Wal-Mart for three-ring notebooks. Judging from the crowded school-supply section, hordes of other last-minute shoppers needed to search for notebook paper and cardboard folders, too.
I can hardly fault anyone for waiting until the night before the first school day to hunt for supplies. But what got to me was the number of kids - little ones, elementary age - shopping with their parents. At 10 oclock at night. The day before the all-important first day of school.
One of those kids, maybe 7 or 8 years old, breezed past with her parents, chirping out her needs: A new bookbag, some paper, so on. Its unlikely she, or the other children taking in a little late-night browsing, was that perky Wednesday morning when the doors of Columbia Countys schools opened.
That scene came to mind when the school day dawned and the news came out with Georgia schools progress, or lack thereof, in meeting the federal No Child Left Behind Act restrictions.
My interest in the story centers on how the three Columbia County schools on last years list fared in this years belated assessment. Congratulations to Grovetown Elementary, which graduated from the needs improvement list just in time for new principal Robert Boyd to take over (and then was placed back on the list by federal interpretations of the law).
But still stuck on the list, and required to allow students to transfer to better-performing schools, are North Harlem and Euchee Creek elementary.
Are North Harlem and Euchee Creek bad schools? Absolutely not. The teachers are just as good and the kids have just as much potential as others around the county.
What many of those kids lack, however, are parents who take their education seriously: getting them to school, rested and fed, on time, and leaving them there until the end of the school day. At North Harlem and Euchee Creek, 16 percent of the students were absent more than two entire weeks of the year. No school can make progress in improving student achievement if kids arent showing up.
A few weeks ago, Richmond County school officials trumpeted a new get-tough attendance policy. Columbia County School Superinten-dent Tommy Price says he immediately got calls from tough-minded parents wanting our school system to likewise crack down.
Price points out that state school board rules prevent schools from punishing students academically for their failure to attend class. Theoretically, any kid who keeps a C average gets full credit even if he or she rarely sets foot in the classroom.
Plus, there really is no such thing as an unexcused absence; kids can lay out of school all they want as long as mom or dad signs a note.
You can bet some of the moms and dads willing to pen such notes were wandering through Wal-Mart with their kids Tuesday night, oblivious to the toll sleep deprivation plays on the educational success of children.
Those careless parents also are the ones least likely to pay attention to their childs education and take the effort to move them from low-performing schools.
Instead, when they arent keeping them out all night, theyll just let them stay at home - where theres no performance at all.
(Barry L. Paschal is publisher of The Columbia County News-Times. E-mail comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.)
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