GREENSBORO — All 25 principals of county schools in High Point have signed a letter criticizing recent remarks from Mayor Jay Wagner that the city could consider forming its own school district.
"City leadership should be advocating to county officials for increasing teacher pay in lieu of exploring secession from GCS at the very time when our schools are making unprecedented change and progress under current district leadership," the principals wrote.
In their letter, the principals also defend the education provided by Guilford County Schools in High Point and call for public policies and economic development that improve the lives of families in their city struggling with poverty.
"Public schools reflect the communities in which they exist," the principals wrote. "The poverty rate in High Point represents some of the most concentrated poverty in Guilford County and in North Carolina. We feel and see the impact of extreme poverty in the faces of our students every day ... As proud principals in Guilford County who enthusiastically serve High Point schools, we stand determined and ready to work together with our elected leaders and business and faith community to benefit all our children and their families. Consequently, the twenty-five of us will encourage our faculties, our staffs, our families, and our friends to support leaders at every level who support education in word and deed. "
Southwest High School principal Mike Hettenbach, who shared the letter with the News & Record, said the mayor's suggestion hit an emotional nerve with High Point principals, who are frustrated about what they see as a lack of funding for schools.
"You are working your tail off to start your school on such a positive note, and it just took the breath away ..." he said. "The disappointing part of working in the schools in High Point is that we do so many good things and they are not celebrated as much as they should be."
From conversations between principals, frustration turned into action.
"A few principals decided to kind of form a committee and get our input and that's what created the letter," he said.
Any High Point principal could have declined to sign, he said, but all chose to add their signature. Collecting the signatures involved a complicated coordination effort of ferrying the letter around from principal to principal.
The letter is already gaining some attention from Guilford County community members.
"I’m very glad that they were all for staying in Guilford County," said Yvette Brown, a Southwest High parent. Brown, who lives in Greensboro, called the N&R to voice a concern that if High Point schools left the school district it could cause a problem for students to receive the Say Yes Guilford college scholarships that are specifically set up for Guilford County Schools students.
"It’s upsetting because I want my child to attend the school she is at and to have the Say Yes to Education scholarship," she said.
Splitting up a county school district would require an act of the legislature, according to the N.C. Center for Public Policy Research. Wagner has said that is also his understanding. He also has said he's not suggesting an immediate departure.
Instead, Wagner has called for a new committee to study whether schools in High Point have benefited from being part of Guilford County Schools. If not, he said, he wants to look at options such as pulling them out and forming a school system just for High Point, or maybe engaging with charter schools.
Wagner was not available Friday afternoon to comment on the letter.
In an earlier interview, Wagner said he thinks the public perception is that schools in High Point aren’t good.
That perception, he said, hurts economic development and property values. He said some High Point schools are better than what some people think, and there are some high-quality programs within schools.
Wagner said he hopes the committee would help them come to a better understanding of how the schools are doing. He added he's heard enthusiasm for his committee idea and that a lot of people have expressed interest in serving.
Guilford County Schools Superintendent Sharon Contreras has said she believes High Point schools would be better off remaining a part of the district.