Amid the string of thunderstorms that ripped through the Triad recently was one bolt of lightning that didn’t strike from the sky.
It came from High Point.
Mayor Jay Wagner wondered aloud whether being part of the Guilford County school system has been a positive for his community. And if not, he wants out.
So he is considering forming a committee to study how High Point schools have fared over the years in GCS. If the negatives should outweigh the positives, Wagner said, High Point should consider other options, including establishing its own school system.
Wagner voiced his concerns during a speech at the High Point Chamber of Commerce’s State of the City luncheon. “Philosophically, from my point of view, I’m kind of a believer in local control,” Wagner told the News & Record’s Jessie Pounds.
Though Guilford County seems plenty “local” to us, Wagner says he had heard from community leaders who are concerned about the quality of the public schools in High Point.
Skeptics will remind you that this is an election year in High Point. But Wagner raises a fair question. Public schools are the lifeblood of any community. They can attract new employers and residents. And they equip young people to become productive members of the workforce.
That said, High Point leaders should consider their options carefully. It makes more sense to explore why schools are struggling before leaping to solutions. Is it a lack of resources or leadership? Or the impact of outside factors such as poverty and segregation?
County schools Superintendent Sharon Contreras said in a statement: “Of our High Point schools that are struggling, 100% are in communities that are stricken by poverty, and the district and its community partners are working to funnel resources into those buildings and lift up those leaders.”
Then there is the backstory. When the High Point City Schools, Greensboro City Schools and Guilford County Schools merged in 1993, school leaders in both cities supported the move. But Guilford County’s two major cities haven’t always played well with each other.
Vestiges of that history seem evident in the school discussion. But in more recent years both cities have seen the wisdom of working together toward common goals. That same spirit should prevail now.
As for the unknowns, there are many: How much would it cost to create separate administrations, transportation systems, IT departments, and other support services that a separate High Point school system would require? Who would pay for it? Would the legislature approve (which it would have to)?
This isn’t to say High Point leaders shouldn’t ask hard questions. But any assessment should be objective and clear-eyed, without preconceived outcomes. (One challenge is how to compare student performance, since the measures used today didn’t exist 26 years ago.) And, by all means, there should be candid discussions with Contreras, the Guilford school board and the county commissioners, who provide local school funding.
New ideas, new data and fresh points of view are welcome. But we would have to be convinced that such a transformative shift would make educational and fiscal sense. For now, we believe the current makeup of Guilford County Schools is as it should be.