EDEN — Concerned New Vision School of Science, Math and Technology parents butted heads with supporters of the New Vision-Dillard Elementary School merger at the Jan. 16 school board meeting.
In December, the board voted 6-2 for Dillard students to remain at their Madison facility in a traditional calendar program with the New Vision year-round school joining them under the same roof, contrary to the superintendent’s recommendation.
The board spent nearly an hour hearing from parents concerned about the impact of the decision, as well as parents worried that rescinding the decision would force Dillard students out of their school.
“This decision came as a complete surprise to New Vision students, parents and staff,” said Jennifer Joyce. “Research to support this plan was never presented at any of the public meetings and it was not supported by NC State University research. New Vision parents were not given the same opportunity as other parents to voice their concerns regarding this plan.”
After hearing public comments, Board Chair Amanda Bell announced that Rockingham County Schools will hold a public meeting to gather feedback and present more information. The time and location are to be determined.
The school board plans to discuss the approved scenario during its Jan. 22 work session at the central office on Harrington Highway in Eden. The superintendent will share pros and cons of the school-within-a-school concept as well as his research into the issue.
“We have received a formal request from you,” Bell said. “We hear you.”
Bell invited the public to attend the work session.
The announcement followed after 13 members of the community spoke during public comments to express their concerns.
Houston Barrow told the board, “Under an agenda item called approval of ‘Redistricting Student Assignment Plan,’ the board tortured the English language and pretended that leaving Dillard school as is would count as redistricting, even though the two-in-one school plan was never presented under the transparency policy on the Rockingham County Schools website.”
Throughout the redistricting process, school officials shared information through the district website in a section entitled “Pathway to Transparency.”
Barrow and others criticized this decision as going directly against the district’s efforts at transparency.
The two-in-one-school option arose as part of a parent focus group and was referred to in a school board meeting, but was never presented as an official option at a meeting or on the website.
The only Western Rockingham Scenario formally presented by school officials involved moving New Vision to the Dillard facility and transferring Dillard students to Huntsville and Stoneville Elementary schools.
“If your intent was to cast a shadow of doubt over your character and integrity in a community already cynical of your motives, you were indeed successful,” said Brooke Beeson. “… In mere minutes you made a mockery of the word ‘transparency,’ the term you have spent a year building the entire redistricting process around.”
Beeson added, “Perhaps if you were as passionate about salvaging schools as you are about disparaging your colleagues, there wouldn't be a need for redistricting.”
Speakers specifically asked, because school closures were considered to cut costs, how much will the district save by merging the schools, specifically in terms of energy costs and hourly pay for staff.
Parents also expressed concern over the impact the merger may have on the free and reduced lunch program, Title I funds and student bus transportation.
“What concerns me the most is after nearly a year of public discussions all claiming to be transparent, what we've ended up with is a plan that has never been vetted in the public light of day with both stake holding schools present and furthermore without any consideration of cost analysis,” said Lindsay Morris.
While two commissioned studies conducted by North Carolina State University addressed the financial impact of three Eden redistricting scenario and one Western Rockingham Scenario, the studies did not address the cost of the merger scenario.
The first of the two studies compared elementary school enrollment to capacity throughout the county. The results for New Vision and Dillard, however, prompted concern from speakers like Jodi Lambert.
“Implementing the dual calendar school plan puts projected enrollment at 575 students, just over capacity and eliminates the opportunity to open up the year round program for more students, so why are we capping a successful innovative program in our county when we should be looking to expand on it?” she said.
Based on a study conducted earlier this year by NC State’s Operations Research and Education Laboratory, Dillard has a 562 student capacity.
Dillard’s projected 2018-2019 enrollment sits at 222 students and New Vision’s at 352. By that data, this plan would put the planned two-school facility over capacity by 12 students.
The following year, however, projections suggest enrollment would drop, leaving the two-in-one school under capacity by six students, with enrollment continuing to decline each year through 2027.
This plan will necessitate about 28 teachers at the school counting both calendar programs, Shotwell estimated in December. Dillard houses 26 classrooms. To fill the gap, the school may need to repurpose an art room and computer room.
Speakers asked for the board to pause the merger plan until they have received more information on feasibility and cost.
“I think it’s the responsibility of this board to step back, take a little bit of time,” said Doug Isley. “We didn't get here overnight, so we shouldn't make a decision overnight and take the time now to study this, pay attention to it and listen to the people in the community.”
Despite the concerns expressed by New Vision stake holders, many in the Dillard community appreciated that the school board heeded their calls to let Dillard students stay.
“It is worth it if kids can stay in their own communities to learn and grow,” said Rebecca Kallam. “It's worth it to me if parents can continue walking their children to school, continue to walk their children home from school. ... They would lose that opportunity being bused into communities that are 10, 15 minutes away from them.”
If students were transferred to other schools, some parents would be less able to visit their child’s school or volunteer, Kallam said.
Kallam further explained how it felt when the district discussed transferring her daughter to another school.
“It hurt me to see her upset, to see that she would be sent away from her school, and that's how it looks,” she said. “No matter what comes from this. It looks like they're being sent away and someone is there to replace them.”
Amy Lester expanded on this concern.
“What I keep hearing is, 'We want the building. We want to expand, but we don't want the kids to go with it,'” she said. “That's not right. That's not good.”
Craig Ellis told the board, “It just seems like there’s a lot of a sense of entitlement which is once again not fair. ... I've been teaching my son a lot about being thankful, being grateful. To allow another school to come in and basically take our school over, I think they should be a little bit more grateful to have that opportunity to come in and do that. My son didn't get everything he wanted for Christmas, but I told him, ‘Hey, maybe we should give some things away.’”
Some speakers stressed the importance of trying to make a two-schools-in-one system work.
To ease the transition, Lester recommended contacting people who have firsthand experience running a two-in-one school in Rockingham County.
“We have done it in the county before,” she said. “I taught traditional and year round out of the same school. There was no division between the teachers. We did plan together.”
Amanda Bullins said, “This issue has created division in our community and our neighborhoods and it’s also creating prejudice. We have one set now saying that their students are better than others. They're all children, and they're all resilient.”
For more information on the Rockingham County Schools redistricting process, visit www.rock.k12.nc.us and click on RCS Pathway to Transparency.