As local educators, community leaders and parents focused on improving education Saturday, the principal of Marshall Middle School said it's time to stop talking and act.
"If we say we love our children and if we truly believe that, then something should show evidence of that," said Michael Forte, principal of Marshall Middle School.
Forte was one of five educators and community leaders gathered at Fourth Street Baptist Church for "A Call To Talk" forum titled "It takes a village to raise a child." About 45 people took part in the forum sponsored by the church and Theresa El-Amin, regional director of the Southern Anti-Racism Network.
To honor the legacy of Shadrack Marshall, one of the first black principals in the Muscogee County School District, and instill pride at the school, Forte said the vision for the school is transforming it into a magnet, the Shadrack Marshall Servant Leadership Academy.
"We want to change lives and touch the hearts of our students at Marshall; therefore, we believe that servant leadership is critical to that transformation," Forte said. "The curriculum we will introduce to Marshall students teaches principles of service, commitment to ideas, to issues, to goals and managing a productive life. The servant leadership curriculum teaches that the foundation of true leadership is not power, but authority which is built upon relationships, service and sacrifice."
Forte said the Servant Leadership Academy would be in line with services provided by police officers, clergy and teachers. "The Servant Leadership Academy will teach students values necessary to serve in those professions," he said. "I am engaging students differently in dialogue, and that I am trying to convince teachers to do the same. Instead of telling students to be quiet or sit down, we engage them by saying is that leadership, or would a leader behave in such a way."
Melvin Blackwell, the chief of Student Services at the school district and former principal at Marshall, said the public will soon get a chance to learn about the district's five-year plan to improve education. "We have to have input to make proper adjustments," he said.
The plan is the result of 18 months of work, 25 meetings at Columbus State University and more than 300 people providing information. The document focuses on building trust, accountability, innovation, striving to set high goals and to raising expectations for education in the 21st century.
Tracy Hargrove, the mother of four children, said there is no job greater than rearing her children and having the necessary tools needed to help them succeed. "Education is the biggest thing in their life and my life," she said.
Hargrove said she is committed when it comes to helping her children succeed.
"Children are with teachers eight hours day," she said. "They know the teacher is their mother for eight hours of the day. They have to realize that there are things they must do while in school: Stay on task, completing assignments and their conduct plays a role in the education process."
Hargrove held up a pamphlet she read recently that said private prison firms build new facilities based on the Criterion-Referenced Competency Test scores from third-graders. "Our children need help in reading and our children need help in math," she said. "How are we going to get there? I don't want to see children fall through the cracks."
Debbie Caballero, chairperson of the Greater Columbus Chamber of Commerce's Partners In Education Program, noted how volunteers put in 67,000 hours last year to help improve schools. Over the last 25 years, the PIE program has helped 80 schools in five counties.
"This is the way our community has been supporting schools for over 25 years," she said.