The groups gathered feedback to also improve integration at D.M. Smith Middle School and East Side High School.
The Cleveland School District Board of Trustees selected a committee composed of Beverly Hardy, Dr. Debbie Fioranelli, Dr. Butch Caston, Dr. Cassie Pennington and board attorney Jamie Jacks to organize the groups.
According to Jacks, the committee determined that each principal would nominate 10 parents; Delta State University would nominate five people, the Cleveland-Bolivar County Chamber of Commerce five people and the mayor of Cleveland five.
“We also reached out to local ministers for appointees. The committee itself also made some appointments,” said Jacks.
She explained principals chose parents and some of the principals contacted the parents first, but her office called each parent individually and followed up with a letter to each parent to confirm their attendance.
The community members were contacted in the same way.
Jacks said, "The demographics of the groups were racially diverse. We were certain to have a good cross-section of both the community and the parents in our district."
"We did not generally advertise but if any parent wanted to be heard, who was not in a meeting, we could schedule a follow-up meeting," said Jacks.
"We have had a few parents approach me about participating who were not in the initial list of appointees and they were invited to meetings. We have not yet scheduled any follow-up meetings because we have not been approached by anyone who wanted to be involved but was not asked. We would be open to scheduling such a meeting, however," she said.
“The reason we were trying to keep the meetings to 15-20 people is that we wanted the groups to be small enough to allow ideas to be shared and heard by all in attendance."
Caston and Pennington, both experienced facilitators, led the focus groups.
The Cleveland School District has been operating under a school desegregation order in federal court for many years in the Cowan vs. Cleveland School District case.
Following a recent court decision in that case, the district, the U.S. Department of Justice, and private plaintiffs have agreed to work together to develop a plan satisfying the requirements in the case, which the district will then submit to the federal court for its approval.
The District's intent is to establish a sound educational system so the community may continue to grow and prosper.
Some topics for these meetings were the possibility of new magnet programs or the introduction of special themes at some schools.
"All of the information gathered in the sessions will be used to formulate a plan, and as a part of the plan, the feedback we heard will be shared with the public," said Jacks.