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Foster aims to leave no child behind in city schools

DEMOPOLIS – For Laura G. Foster, her first term on the Demopolis City School Board will be about not leaving any child out of the educational process.

Foster attended her first board meeting Tuesday after being appointed to a five-year term by the Demopolis City Council.

A Gallion native, Foster retuned to Demopolis after living 31 years in Boston, Mass., and retiring from state government.

“I don’t have all the answers,” she said, “but I haven’t asked the questions yet.”

The questions are coming, however, because she wants to concentrate on creating a learning environment that’s good for Demopolis’ students.

“The learning environment needs to be improved. That’s my over-all concern,” she said.

That concern is built from her experience as a classroom educator and a substitute in the Demopolis schools, she said.

“I’ve been in the classrooms and know the broad mixture of students teachers have to face everyday,” Foster said.

A graduate of U.S Jones High School herself, she began teaching in Linden, armed with a degree from Tuskegee Institute. After four years in the classroom, she married and moved to Boston where she raised two children and spent 17 years with the Head Start program before moving into state government, first with the Massachusetts’s Department of Social Services, then as workers’ compensation and employee assistance coordinator with the state’s Department of Transportation.

That experience, she said, helped prepare her for the role she now plays in the city’s school system – setting the educational policies and standards system wide, and struggling to find funding to support those initiatives.

Still, she said the number of students in a classroom, combined with the mainstreaming of special education students under Pres. George W. Bush’s No Child Left Behind initiative, creates special problems for classroom educators solve and that she wants to provide some “common sense” in that process.

“Nobody needs to be left out of the education process, but with larger classes that becomes more difficult,” she said.

“With 25 students in a class , no matter how good a teacher is, it’s difficult to provide for each child’s individual needs,” Foster said.

That’s why she advocates finding a way for teachers to teach smaller numbers of students, although she admits that may be an issue driven more by economics than the best educational practices.

“It could be the problem that funds are not available (for smaller class numbers,” she said, readily pointing out that No Child Left Behind is largely an unfunded federal mandate with little implementation guidance to the states.

“It would do well for some of the people in Montgomery (in the state Department of Education) to get in a classroom and see for themselves what teachers face every day,” she said.

“There’s a reason a coach has nine on a baseball team, or 11 on the football field or five on the basketball court – beyond that it gets hard to manage,” she said.

And managing the students and their learning is precisely what she hopes her involvement on the school board will enable school administrators and educators to better do.

For Foster, that translates into enabling classroom educators to have a more personal relationship with their students, like one U.S. Jones teacher had for her and her brother.

“That’s how I ended up at U.S. Jones. There was a teacher there who lived in Gallion and she took us to school from the seventh grade on until I graduated because there wasn’t any bussing for black children back then,” she said.

“That’s what made the difference,” Foster added.