Softball Questions

The image “” cannot be displayed, because it contains errors. So…the News & Record kicked off their revamped Sunday edition yesterday with their new “10 Plus”: questions from the public to be asked of local newsmakers. First up…Dr. Grier (click here).

It appears that they chose only one question from readers who were solicited to ask questions and nine others from a N&R staffer. And it was no surprise they chose not to use any of my questions. I won’t lose any sleep over it though.

Here was the sole reader question they did use, from a Meredith Millard of Greensboro:

Q. Why do almost 100 percent of Guilford County Schools have approved School Improvement Plans that include a waiver that allows them to exceed class size and maximum teaching loads for a three-year period? It seems to be an oxymoron to have an improvement plan that also allows you to make a situation worse than it already is. — Meredith Millard, Greensboro

A. Numerous schools statewide have been putting that particular waiver in their school improvement plans for years to have the flexibility to adapt to particular circumstances and improvement goals.
Certainly, no one would argue that in general, class size and teaching load can affect the quality of instruction and student engagement. But in the attempt to improve student outcomes, schools have sought to make site-based decisions to allocate their teaching resources to address their improvement goals and their particular circumstances. For example, a school might choose to slightly exceed class size in one grade to avoid having to create a combination class (more than one grade in a single classroom). Another school might choose to create smaller class sizes in particular subjects such as English or freshman classes, and want the flexibility to do that by slightly increasing class size or load in another area. Some schools have even considered using a large college-style lecture for initial information, and then utilizing even smaller classes for labs or customized instruction.
That said, our district carefully monitors class size, especially in younger grades and in Mission Possible schools, where we know clearly from research that a class size of 15:1 in the first three years of school can have a permanent impact on student achievement if instruction becomes more customized to individual needs. Principals do not make decisions to use this waiver lightly or without good reason, and there is district oversight to ensure that exceptions are being made for the right reasons.

Good question.


But the ones from the N&R’s John Nagy were, in my opinion, “softball” at best. So here they are, with some comment and analysis mixed in:

Q. What kind of student were you in school?

A. In high school, I was an above-average student in a small high school. Sports were a top priority as I saw this as an opportunity to excel, and possibly as a way to advance to college. In college, the first year was a struggle. I quickly realized that high school had not prepared me for the new level of rigor at the college level. I worked hard and never quit.

That’s a softball question. A page-filler.


Q. In your time here, what has been the greatest success?

A. We have had a number of successes during my tenure. It is difficult to point out only one. For example:

* We have cut our dropout rate in half since 2000 — 5.97 percent to approximately 3 percent — among the lowest in North Carolina.

* Increased the percentage of students graduating from high school within four years of entering the ninth grade from 66 percent to 80 percent.

* The amount of scholarship dollars offered to our seniors has risen from $28 million to $68 million.

* Increased the number of Advanced Placement (AP) exams taken by GCS students from 2,864 in 2000 to 8,393 in 2007.

He never talks about how many actually pass the AP exam or how many use AP credit toward college.


Q. How well has the “teacher accountability” movement worked in terms of what we were achieving previously and what we’re achieving now in the classroom?

A. It has been a mixed bag. The No Child Left Behind legislation has created a great deal of stress among our teaching and administrative ranks — in theory, no one could disagree – no child should be left behind. However, the “one fail, all fail” component of the legislation is very unfair to schools and our employees. I worry that by focusing so much of our attention on core subjects that we could lose sight of educating the “whole” child. On the other hand, we are clearly more focused in our mission of educating all children to much higher levels. Measures of student success have improved.

We have here an on-the-record thought of his feeling on No Child Left Behind. It is leaving many of our children behind. It’s no secret that many GCS schools are using NCLB-mandated EOC and EOG scores to either renew or not renew teacher contracts. Therein lies the stress Grier talks about. Teach to the test, if results aren’t shown, teachers are shown the door. It’s unfair, not only to the teacher, but to the child. He is right that the current “one fail-all fail” model is abysmal.


Q. You’ve met opposition over the years as a superintendent. Where does the “Get Grier Outta Here” campaign rank?

A. This campaign was pretty low on my radar screen. Please understand, I am not above criticism and I certainly make mistakes. However, the campaign focused primarily on one issue: student assignment. I didn’t take it personally; while I did not create the High Point Choice Plan, I thought it had merit and could have worked to bring socioeconomic balance to the schools in High Point.

Good question, lame answer. A plan for busing has merit. Wow! That’s frightening!

Instead of busing, Terrence, why not put as many resources (supplies, manpower, etc.) into ALL of High Point’s schools as you can and make them strong neighborhood schools, as I advocate, and there would not have been any need for this. If GCS (and the city of High Point itself) planned for future growth, there would have been no need for busing or constant redistricting of High Point’s schools. It was not just about student assignment.

The image “” cannot be displayed, because it contains errors. You and Dot Kearns need to stop drinking the Kool-Aid and get serious about “one county, one school system.”


Q. What’s the plan for building and expanding schools if a new construction referendum fails?

A. We are still growing by about 1,000 students per year. … With the completion of Randleman dam, the arrival of FedEx, the expansion of water lines from Rockingham County and Alamance County, etc., the growth will continue. … Residents know that good schools are an important part of economic development. And I think the community realizes, the alternative to new school facilities are more mobile units.

The image “” cannot be displayed, because it contains errors. Grier didn’t have a response recently when asked why enrollment was down so far this year, as incorrectly projected. Hope you got the first fleet of trailers ready because this bond is in trouble.


The next four questions were all softballs:

Q. Were they in a marriage, should Guilford County Schools and the Board of Commissioners at this point be seeing a minister, a marriage counselor or a divorce attorney?

A. The relationship between these groups has had its ups and downs during my tenure in the district. Frankly, it is predictable.

Predictably sad, you mean.


Q. How often do you get button-holed when you’re out running errands and how do you keep track of what you’re asked to do?

A. On a regular basis: the grocery store, dry cleaners, movies, shopping, etc. Several years ago, I was approached by someone in a café in Prague while Nancy and I were on vacation during spring break. I work hard to listen to concerns and see them as opportunities to improve our schools and services. I ask people to e-mail their issues to me. Then, there is a record of their concern and I can forward it to the appropriate staff member.

Whoa…hang on! When you say “people” to e-mail their issues to you, do you mean GCS staffers or the general public? You do realize, Dr. Grier, that the rank-and-file teacher is discouraged from even talking to board members about issues or concerns. They are considered “disloyal” by their principal, you do realize that, right?


Q. What’s your favorite way to unwind after a tense day?

A. I enjoy a good meal and spending time with my wife. I read a lot of fiction — mystery, action, etc.

Q. How long does it take you to go through your e-mail in the morning?

A. I’m an early riser, so it is not unusual for me to respond to e-mails at
4:30 or 5 a.m. I get to the office early each morning and spend about an hour going through e-mails before everyone arrives. I answer most of them myself or forward them to staff for their attention.


Good last question:

Q. What’s the most important thing, above all else, you want to achieve before leaving this job?

A. I would like to help create an atmosphere of hope, teamwork, and a belief system that would sustain our school system for years to come — an atmosphere where adults care deeply about all children and make an unwavering commitment to their future. It’s the action of the adults in our schools and community and their beliefs that make the difference — not the socioeconomic or ethnic background of children.

He’s got a good point…the grown-ups in our community need to start acting like grown-ups, because our children see the actions of us. When some on the board(s) get up on their high horse(s) and start acting like children, it really sets a bad example.

BTW, the N&R gave him a relatively positive editorial yesterday, almost a thumbs up in support of his recent raise, click here to read it.

E.C. 🙂


One Response

  1. Now you know why I don’t subscribe to the N&R.

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