Instead, Thursday afternoon, there were no students. The staff was packing everything from the program up - obviously agitated by the very real possibility they won’t ever meet their kids at Falling Creek Park again.
“We’re not planning for any summer program,” Assistant Director Hazel Robinson said. “I don’t want to step up and be the director. We were all asked if any of us wanted to take over Mr. Stanback’s position, but there were no volunteers. I don’t want to do all that paperwork. If I hadn’t planned to take the summer off, I wouldn’t be here anyway, unless he was the director.”
The eight remaining staff members gathered around one table and each repeated the chorus, “I won’t be back unless Mr. Stanback is the director.”
All begged the question why the board didn’t at least ask the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development for a waiver of exemption in this case.
Instructor Irene Waddell said she did not agree with the way Stanback’s dismissal was handled, but she would consider coming back, “because my passion is teaching children.”
21st Century Instructor Johnny Jamison explained this was his first year with the program that opened in late 2007, and he’d found the school year equally gratifying when working with the children and disappointing when it ended on sour note.
He described the program as an atom and Stanback as the nucleus.
“We’re going through EOG’s and the retesting of our children, and they come here on the night of our banquet and tell our director this bad news about his program,” Jamison said. “So, of course, the children became aware of it, he had to announce he wouldn’t be back, and that adds pressure on top of the pressure (the students) have already studying math and science. They could have waited and let us close out the year on a good note, get our grant funding and move forward.”
For his part, Stanback also feels the bite of disappointment the program couldn’t see the kids through testing and on through the summer, and said he will not return to the 21st Century Learning Program.
He said the program was a way for him to take time with children who needed help, not a career move.
“I wasn’t looking for a job. I just wanted the program in the community, because I knew it was a good program,” he said Thursday afternoon. “Our kids needed the help. Other communities had these types of programs and I wanted one for Richmond County. Even when the grant was submitted, I wasn’t planning on running it. It just happened ... That’s why I wasn’t worried about any investigation or anything — I knew I hadn’t done anything wrong.”
He explained he had a job with the state that he retired early from and reduced his retirement benefits so he could work with the program. Stanback was formerly employed with North Carolina Juvenile Justice, a post he held for more than 20 years.
He said one reason he and the other members of the Rockingham Housing Authority Board saw nothing wrong with him serving as program director in 2007 was because the program’s funding doesn’t come from Housing and Urban Development, but from the U.S. Department of Education. It is then controlled by the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction.
“Everything I did, every form I signed, every application, every newspaper article, everything had Rockingham Housing Authority’s 21st Century Learning Program on it,” Stanback said. “I never tried to hide anything from anybody. I wasn’t trying to hide the fact that the program was through the Housing Authority, because I did nothing wrong.”
He also feels it is unfair to judge his $55,000 salary based on the original grant proposal that was approved. After that budget was received in June 2007, and before the program opened in late 2007, positions were added and numbers were changed.
“Even though that was the proposal that was approved, it was still a proposal,” Stanback said. “Proposals change. Things get tweaked. I was running the program with three staff members in that proposal. I then learned that would be impossible and we went up to seven staff members.”
One official said the number was in line.
“We have programs all across the state of North Carolina and that’s certainly an appropriate salary,” North Carolina Department of Public Instruction 21st Century Regional Consultant Ed Bell said.
Stanback also said when the issue came up, he offered to work the last two months for free. After that he’d be eligible to run a program operated through the Housing Authority.
Furthermore, Stanback said the question of insurance for the transportation of the children to and from the program was never a question at all.
“The van always had enough coverage for those kids,” he said.
He said his whole involvement with the after school program hinged solely on his passion for the children, and that passion garnered attention from like-minded civic leaders.
Stanback recounted recently when the Durham Housing Authority got a similar grant, they sent representatives to observe the Rockingham program.
“There’s never been any question about the program,” he said. “We received a good monitoring report from (the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction), and I’d already contracted with two professors from UNC-Chapel Hill to come and take a look at the program, because that’s allowed for in the budget and we wanted to be sure the program was effective.”
“The things we were doing, people were picking up on it,” Stanback later said. “We were recognized as successful. Our money program, other agencies have begun to use that as an incentive for kids. We did everything the right way.”
In the end, Stanback’s message is the kids are the ones who will suffer.
“Those kids don’t have anything to do now,” he said. “Research has found that in the two months the kids are out during the summer, they lose the whole year of what they’ve learned in school if there’s no on-going summer-type enrichment program.
“That program wasn’t just an after school program. It was a dropout prevention program. It was a drug prevention program. It was a gang prevention program. It was a pregnancy prevention program. It taught them financial responsibility. But more than anything else it kept those kids focused on something positive, and they wanted to learn and improve.”
He said he’d miss the children running up to him with progress reports and report cards and celebrating achievement the most.
At Falling Creek Thursday, though, 21st Century Instructor Mary Daniel’s disappointment was also plain to see.
“I never saw the board that did this,” she said. “Not once did they come down here to interact with the kids we worked with each day. Mr. Stanback was here every day working with kids that are depressed, kids that were failing in school and then turned around and started passing everything. If they had just taken the time to come down here and be a part of this, they would understand why everybody’s so upset that he has left.”
“All you hear about is the policy, the policy, but they didn’t tell you that the same policy they used to terminate our director provides for an exemption right at the end,” Instructor Curtis McIver said. “If you’re going to sit there and praise this man in the paper about the job he did, and he went out and got a $10,000 grant to keep the program going, you could at least apply for the exemption.”
As staff members swept and loaded up boxes Thursday afternoon, two teachers took down the banner hanging on the wall advertising “Rockingham Housing Authority’s 21st Century Learning Program” and rolled it up to be tucked away in a plastic bin.