Phipps: Community key to fixing schools

Published 6:29 pm Sunday, September 26, 2010

Staff Writer

CHOCOWINITY — Republican Beaufort County Commissioner Al Klemm called Don Phipps “a breath of fresh air.”
Klemm’s introductory description of the Beaufort County Schools superintendent won a chorus of spontaneous amens from some of the nearly 30 guests and members of the Down East Republican Club, gathered for a meeting at a Chocowinity restaurant Thursday evening.
Klemm, chairman of the Beaufort County Economic Development Commission, praised Phipps and the school system for promoting the Beaufort County Workforce Partnership.
Klemm said the partnership is working with local businesses to ensure county residents get the training they need to fill skilled jobs that are being won by out-of-county employees.
“By working with businesses, we’re finding where the opportunities are,” Klemm added.
In his turn at the lectern, Phipps said schools officials are working with the nonprofit Beaufort County Committee of 100, the Workforce Partnership and other organizations to create a profile of the “ideal worker” that local companies want, along with a picture of the typical employee they draft from the ranks of the county’s work force.
“We want to find out what the model, ideal, prototypical employee would be,” Phipps explained. “If they would give us characteristics of if that person came to you right now, and they were the perfect employee, what would they be made up of?”
He said schools officials want to see “if there’s a gap that the system can bridge, then we’ll work on it,” whether the gap is a lack of adequate writing skills or manifests itself in other skills sets.
“We have high expectations for everybody,” Phipps added later, speaking of Beaufort County’s public-school students.
Phipps covered a broad array of topics, but honed in on enhancing community involvement as one path to improving education.
Reaching for an example, the superintendent mentioned many parents’ outrage over a state plan to change the history curriculum. The proposed changes were turned back by the public outcry.
“That is the community voice that you need to have,” Phipps said.
Phipps also referenced plans to explore “developing a true character-education program” for students, with input from parents, teachers, pastors and others in line to identify essential “character traits that we need to make sure we are instilling.”
He spoke repeatedly about giving parents and volunteers “more of a community voice” in how Beaufort County schools operate.
“A school system does not operate in isolation, just like a church does not operate in isolation,” Phipps said. “The community here should have a great deal of influence in what goes on in our schools.”
Later, Phipps took a few questions from his audience, which rewarded him with applause.