Thursday, November 09, 2000

Covington schools get fresh faces, fresh start

By Lori Hayes
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        COVINGTON — With a majority of the seats on the embattled Covington school board now decided by voters, parents and community members said Wednesday they have high expectations of the district's new leaders.

        “They need to shake it up around here,” said Sylvia Dornbusch, who voted for new faces and hoped for change.

        As students and teachers arrived at Latonia Elementary Wednesday morning, parents said they are looking forward to a fresh start for the struggling district that's under fire for poor performance.

        “It's too set in the old ways,” Ms. Dornbusch said, walking her two grandchildren to school. “They need to start weeding out these old ones who are stuck in their ways.”

        Two newcomers — Glenda Huff, a parent of three Covington students and one graduate, and Rita Wilson, a retired Covington teacher — put an end to current board Chairman Hensley Jemmott's spot on the board in a contentious election that gave voters a choice between two incumbents and five challengers for three seats. Board member Col Owens, however, captured the most votes and kept his seat.

        “The community came out and voted this time for change,” Mrs. Wilson said Wednesday.

        The campaign, often characterized as new blood versus the old guard, focused on recent reform efforts in the schools — all linked to a critical audit by the Kentucky Department of Education. Board watchers have said the election was crucial to improvements for the district, especially after candidates sparred over the validity of the state audit.

        “With a board that's really in tune with the needs of parents and teachers, we're just set to roll,” said Carol Gastright, mother of two Covington graduates.

        But this is just a start, said Diane Brumback, president of the Covington Educational Foundation.

        The community has to “remain attentive as this new governing body sets the direction for the school district and most importantly hires the next superintendent,” she said. “Simply changing board members and viewpoints does not automatically force positive and compelling change.”

        Dozens of changes in instruction and management were put into place at the beginning of the school year following the state audit. In recent weeks, state officials have been back in the district to check on schools' progress.

        Interim Superintendent Jack Moreland said he's confident both new and veteran board members will continue to make improvements, but the election doesn't change efforts already in place.

        “Those were dictated by the state,” he said. “I don't see any change in direction as to the commitment to excellence.”

        Tuesday's winners all said they'll push forward with the state recommendations.

        And at the top of the agenda, Mr. Owens said, is a search for a full-time superintendent. Mr. Mo reland has been running the district since July, but the schools need a permanent leader.

        But all three new board members have said they strongly support Mr. Moreland and would like to see him stay at the helm.

        Mrs. Gastright said boosting teacher morale and getting more parents involved should be top priorities, while Ms. Dornbusch said discipline needs to be heightened, and more money should go toward educational programs instead of facilities.

        Either way, improvement is inevitable, Mrs. Wilson said.

        “They have to go up because they can't go down much further.”


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