2 Fayette School Board members field parents’ questions

Fayette County Board of Education Chairman Scott Hollowell, at left, and board member Barry Marchman fielded questions Sept. 10 at a meeting with parents. Photo/Ben Nelms.
Fayette County Board of Education Chairman Scott Hollowell, at left, and board member Barry Marchman fielded questions in September 2019 at a meeting with parents. Photo/Ben Nelms.

A public meeting with two members of the Fayette County Board of Education held Sept. 10 at the Bridge Community Center in Peachtree City had school board members responding to audience questions on topics such as the autonomy of principals, school system policies and the use of Chromebooks in the classroom.

The event was broadcast on Facebook in its entirety by The Citizen.

School board Chairman Scott Hollowell and board member Barry Marchman fielded questions from the audience of 40 people and from those submitting on Facebook. The event was moderated by the Fayette County Republican Party’s Steve Brown.

Hollowell and Marchman at the outset of the meeting noted that they did not speak for the entire school board.

Divided into segments, the wide-ranging parent meeting included topics such as school system policies and the use of Chromebooks.

One of the questions asked how schools function, given that some parents were not clear on the autonomy given to principals at individual schools.

“The principal has a lot of autonomy to set the culture in the building,” Hollowell responded, citing an example. “Some principals may let students use their cell phones during lunch, and some may not. That’s really at the discretion of the principal.”

Hollowell said principals don’t really have leeway in terms of what the standards are, citing the systemwide student code of conduct as an example.

Hollowell added that a principal’s autonomy includes hiring teachers.

The board members were asked if school administration had the ability to change district-wide enforcement policies.

While principals must follow the policies, Marchman said principals do have some flexibility to make decisions with policies that are not clear-cut.

On the topic of Chromebooks, an elementary school parent, who asked a similar question posed by others, said the overuse of technology has turned into facilitated teaching more than anything. The amount of time that children spend at school and at home completing assignments on the Chromebook was ridiculous last year, the parent charged. Most kids are hands-on learners. There has got to be a better balance where students and teachers are considered first, the parent said.

Marchman read a response to the question that had been provided by a school system staff member, saying essentially that the goal is equitable access for all students in every school. That access is meant to facilitate learning opportunities, both traditional and digital.

In terms of the amount of homework assigned to students, Hollowell said, “I feel their pain.”

Brown continued, saying parents had noted that the social dimension is diminishing in lieu of concentrating on the Chromebook.

A balance between Chromebooks and time with the teacher should be addressed with the individual principal, Marchman suggested.

Hollowell agreed, saying the aim is to have blended learning.

“I don’t see any future where kids aren’t going to need to be conversant with technology,” Hollowell added.

A parent in the audience followed, noting that kids need to be taught correctly to use the technology, stressing that “turning kids loose on Google” is not wise, where opinions on venues such as Facebook are interpreted by some as facts.

“We have incredible teachers in Fayette County,” the parent said. “And so, when we’re just letting (kids) spend hours … from what I’ve heard from a lot of parents of older children, and even elementary school, you can track the amount of screen time at school. A child should not be spending hours on a Chromebook at school. Let the teachers do their craft and use the gifts that God has given them to teach our students and use the technology as a resource.”