No limits: Parker aims high in re-election effort

by Keith Barber


Marilyn Parker speaks with an easy confidence about most anything to do with education in Forsyth County.


A three-term incumbent on the Winston- Salem/Forsyth County Board of Education, Parker boasts an impressive r’sum’ with a master s degree in education and more than 25 years experience as the director of Ardmore Methodist Preschool. Subjects like equality of education for all students in Forsyth County don t intimidate Parker at all.

She asserted her firm belief that equal education for all is both achievable and realistic.

“I have to say I think we’ve come a long way from what equality meant when I was in school to what it means now,” Parker said. “Now, we think much more in terms of what’s necessary for each individual child’s education. It means educators have to change their ways of thinking — how they format their classrooms where they really look at individual children and small groups.”

Parker said the school systems is rapidly approaching the time when schools will no longer limit individual education plans, or IEPs, to students with special needs, but extend personalized learning to students at all levels and aptitudes.

Over the past 12 years, Parker, who represents District 2, has witnessed the impact of the decade-old emphasis on accountability. She said the ABCs testing by the state and the federal No Child Left Behind Act have both positives and negatives. Parker prefers to focus on the positives.

“It makes everybody from central office to the school to the classroom to the parents even take a look at what they’re doing in a child’s education,” Parker said. “Even from a community standpoint, the community has really stepped up as well with having volunteers and tutors. It’s kind of put a new emphasis on how important education is and how it’s everybody’s business.”

On May 4, Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools superintendent Don Martin had to appear before Superior Court Judge Howard Manning and talk about what measures the school system is taking to improve achievement at low performing elementary and middle schools. Manning presides over the Leandro case, in which he ruled that every child in the state has a constitutional right to a “sound basic education.”

Parker said she didn’t see Martin’s appearance before Judge Leandro as a “punitive thing,” but an opportunity for the school system to show what it has done to address low achievement in its schools.

“This is his new soapbox; he is the education judge,” Parker said. “I think sometimes he wants to know we’re doing something. I think he wants to know what’s actually happening. He wants to make sure schools are doing what they should for all children, and for those children at risk.”

Last month, the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools had good news to report to Manning. The NC Department of Public Instruction announced the school system had no low-performing schools during the 2009-10 school year. Seventy schools, or 93 percent, showed at least expected growth in their ABC, end-of-grade and end-of-course test scores. Forty-one schools in the district showed higher-than-expected growth.

The recent news about test scores is encouraging but many challenges remain. The achievement gap is one area the school system is addressing with a new readingfocused K-2 curriculum, Parker said. The curriculum is being implemented at schools with a high percentage of students who receive free and reduced lunches. “Reading is the key to everything,” Parker said.

The achievement gap is closely linked to a child’s initial knowledge base, so a curriculum that incorporates experiential learning is critical to progress in this area as well, Parker added.

Parker defended the board’s school choice policy, which some critics have called the re-segregation of the schools. Parker pointed out that parents have a choice where to send their child to school, although she acknowledges that not every child that applies to a magnet school is accepted. A lottery determines which children are accepted while many are placed on a waiting list.

With the state looking down the barrel of another big budget deficit next year, it’s likely the school board will have to make even deeper cuts come budget time. Parker promised to protect the classroom at all times in her deliberations.

“I’m very passionate about curriculum, so my first guiding principle is to stay away from [cutting] anything that affects the classroom,” she said.