Dr. Cletus “Clete” Bulach, a former education professor at the University of West Georgia, published the first edition of “Creating a Culture for High-Performing Schools” in 2008, with a second edition released last October.
The loss of students to Carrollton and Bremen school systems is an issue that was discussed last month at a Carroll County Board of Education candidate forum.
In his book, Bulach lists six reasons why students leave schools that do not charge tuition to all students. The Carroll County School System charges a tuition of $350 per family, per year to students who live outside Carroll County.
Bulach said the list is about the U.S. educational system in general, but that Carroll County is no different.
“Carroll County Schools is as good as 95 percent of the schools in the United States,” he said. “I’d put them against Cobb, Fulton and Clayton counties and say they’re superior. But does that mean they don’t need improvement? No.”
Carroll County Schools Superintendent Scott Cowart takes issue with Bulach’s and others’ beliefs on why students are leaving the school system.
“We’ve got quite a number of kids coming in, actually, and that’s a good thing,” Cowart said. “For those leaving, we have exit surveys to make sure we get at why students are choosing to leave.”
In his book, Bulach said the biggest reason for lower test scores in systems like Carroll County are disruptions in the classroom because of student misbehavior.
“Student interruptions occur in these types of schools up to five times per class period,” he said. “That’s 30 times a day if you have six class periods. If each interruption lasts two minutes, that’s an hour each day wasted.”
Bulach said he believes fewer instructional hours are lost because of classroom disruptions in Carrollton City Schools than Carroll County Schools.
Bulach said the reason for these disruptions is the lack of purpose some students feel.
“Every kid who transfers already has a purpose because they or their parents have made the effort to get them there,” Bulach said. “Many go to Carroll County without a purpose; they go to school only because they have to.”
Bulach said the reason for this lack of purpose is insufficient parent involvement.
“You get parent involvement with tuition,” he said. “It’s not the same involvement with people when schools don’t charge tuition because parents push their kids, and their children are motivated.”
Cowart said “involvement” is not what the Carroll County School System aims to achieve.
“We look more at engagement with the community and the parents,” Cowart said. “A parent can be involved but not engaged.”
Cowart said he is proud of the improved quality of engagement he has seen in Carroll County the past few years.
“Our parent involvement, judged by parent volunteer hours, has increased by several thousand recently,” he said. “We’ve tripled our community business partners since I’ve been on the board, and we’ve engaged students with forums and discussion groups to make sure their needs are met.”
The fourth reason Bulach gives for lower test scores is the way administrational power is used in school systems.
“There are two different forms of power: controlling and freeing,” he said. “Teachers and administrators in Carroll County use the controlling form of power.”
Bulach said the culture and climate of schools like those Carroll County need to be improved.
“Some schools in the county district have excellent culture and climate,” he said. “When I worked with the board, I identified three schools with a good climate.”
The sixth and final reason given by Bulach is the level of openness and trust seen at a school.
“Teachers are afraid to be open with administrators and each other at these schools,” he said. “And if anyone doubts it, I have a survey that tests it that I can administer free of charge.”
Cowart said that parents share one thing in common, no matter what type of school their children attend.
“I don’t care if their kids go to a school that’s public or private or charter, every parent wants what’s best for his or her children,” he said.
Bulach said the book is a distillation of what he learned while evaluating all the school districts in West Virginia, but he thinks it all applies to the schools in Carroll County.
“I went up there and traveled to each and every school district in an RV,” he said. “What I learned visiting there is the essence of my book.”