WENTWORTH — Parents, teachers, student and concerned citizens poured into Rockingham County High School on Nov. 9 to tell the school board their stance on the possible closure of Dillard and Draper elementary schools.
This public hearing hosted by the school district will in turn inform the board’s final decision on whether to close both schools, Draper, Dillard or neither during their Nov. 20 board meeting. All Board of Education members were present, except District 3’s Wayne Kirkman.
Many spoke in strong opposition to closing their community school, some negotiated possible alternatives and a few expressed understanding of the district’s financial strain. In all, 25 people came out to speak their mind.
Ten-year-old Draper Elementary students Bryce Church and Dominique Hairston both addressed the board in support of their school.
“Out of all the schools, Draper Elementary is the only school that I really fit in and it really feels like home to me,” Church said. “Draper gives me the best feeling in the world when I walk through the doors. Because of Draper, I will be successful.”
Hairston followed and said, “I don't just speak for me about Draper Elementary. I speak for our little brothers and sisters and cousins too, because they want to get to feel how I feel. I hope they get to go to Draper. I will always remember Draper through middle school, high school and college. I will always think back and say, ‘Because of Draper, this is who I am today.’”
Susan Knight of Stoneville, who has taught at Dillard for 25 years, asked the board to allow Dillard students and teachers the opportunity to stay at their home campus and work at the New Vision School of Science, Math and Technology if the district decides to close Dillard and move New Vision to the current Dillard campus.
“If New Vision school is moved to the Dillard campus, the building still will not be at full capacity, and we know there are students and staff of Dillard that would really like to remain at the school and attend along with New Vision for valid reasons such as the parents not having to drive their children to a campus that could be further away and parents not having to put their children on buses to travel for extended times to other schools,” Knight said.
Other Dillard supporters suggested that Dillard and New Vision share the Dillard campus with both the traditional school and the year-round magnet school operating as two schools under one roof.
Multiple speakers warned the board that if the public does not like their decision, the evidence will show in future elections.
“Nobody wants it to be their school,” said Amy Lester of Stoneville. “Who in the right fricking mind would want to upheave their child to a new school on a new bus, but your decision is inevitable, but don't forget. We won't have to like it either. There will be elections in the coming years.”
A few speakers told the board that they understand this is a difficult decision.
“There's something that has to be done,” said Randy Pruitt of Mayodan, a member of the parent advisory committee. “(Within) our school system there is a huge shortfall in money, and this isn't a perfect answer, but it is something that has been thought through. It's not something that's just picking on one particular place. It's for the entire county.“
The district is considering Draper and Dillard due to the results of the Integrated Planning for School and Community study and the Transportation Impact Assessment Report, both conducted by North Carolina State University’s Operations Research and Education Laboratory.
The IPSAC study examined expected future growth over the next 10 years, evaluated capacities of all schools and identified options to better utilize schools and reduce costs.
The TIA report examined how redistricting options would impact bus routes, average student bus ride time, number of buses needed and the state transportation reimbursement
These studies along with the parent advisory committee and Rockingham County Schools identified one possible redistricting scenario closing Dillard and three scenarios closing Draper taking into account enrollment compared to school capacity, transportation distances for students, respecting neighborhoods, efficient busing and the age and condition of schools.
RCS also considered closing South End Elementary in Reidsville, but took it off the table following the district’s decision to plan a UNC-Greensboro-led partnership magnet school at Reidsville’s Moss Street Elementary.
Western Rockingham County Scenario
The Western Rockingham County Scenario would close Dillard and divide its student body between Stoneville and Huntsville elementary schools.
About 122 students would transfer to Huntsville and 102 to Stoneville, based on the TIA report.
The total number of miles driven by buses in this region would increase from 884.5 miles to 917.99 and increase bus driver hours from 34.14 to 35.1.
With the addition of previous Dillard students, bus ride time for the average Stoneville student would increase from 36 minutes to 37 minutes. For Huntsville, ride time would remain at 39 minutes.
The average bus ride time for a Dillard student currently is about 32 minutes
State reimbursement for bus routing would increase by 1.2 percent per student based on third quartile percentage change.
The district may also move New Vision to the newer Dillard campus and find a way to preserve the John W. Dillard name.
The Dillard site has a higher capacity than the current New Vision site by more than 100 students. This move could allow the magnet school to accept more students.
Eden Scenario 1, 2 and 3
In the three Eden scenarios, Draper Elementary would close. The scenarios differ in how Central, Leaksville-Spray, Douglass and Lincoln elementary schools could be redistricted to compensate for that closure and reduce costs.
According to the IPSAC study, the current Draper student body reaches only 45 percent of the site’s total capacity, the second lowest in the county.
State reimbursement for bus routing for all three scenarios would increase by 1.4 percent per student based on third quartile percentage change.
Scenario 1 would alter the attendance zones for all of the northern and northwestern elementary schools in the county.
Draper students would go to Central. Some Central students would go to Leaksville, and some Leaksville students would attend Douglass.
Douglass would increase by 167 students, Central would increase by 88 and Leaksville-Spray would go down by 77. These changes would not push any of the schools over capacity.
The total number of miles driven by buses across the region would decrease from 524.94 miles to 427.95 and bus driver hours would fall from 31.02 to 22.5.
This change would also allow the district to decommission four buses for an annual savings of $16,000 to $20,000, according to the transportation report.
Average bus ride time for a Central student would remain at 21 minutes. Douglass student ride time would decrease from 24 to 17 minutes. Leaksville-Spray students’ rides would increase from 13 minutes to 18.
The average ride time for a Draper Elementary student is currently 30 minutes.
Under Eden Scenario 2, nearly all current Draper students would transfer to Lincoln.
This would require adding mobile units to the Lincoln school site to accommodate the new students, but the other schools in the Eden zone would remain untouched.
About 179 current Draper students would transfer to Lincoln with about 24 students transferring to Central.
The total number of miles driven by buses in the Draper/Lincoln area would increase from 442.92 miles to 454.56, but bus driver hours would decrease from 18.87 to 17.33.
The district would no longer need one evening bus.
Average bus ride time for a Lincoln student would decrease from 45 minutes to 37 minutes, 7 minutes up from Draper’s current average.
The Eden Scenario 3, Draper students would be more evenly divided between Central and Lincoln to prevent either from going above capacity.
Central would gain about 106 students and Lincoln, 97.
The total number of miles driven by buses in this region would decrease from 560.5 miles to 559.7 and bus driver hours would decrease from 26.2 to 25.2.
The district would no longer need one evening bus.
Average bus ride time for a Lincoln student would decrease from 45 minutes to 41 minutes, about 11 minutes more than Draper’s average.
For Central, average ride time would drop from 21 minutes to 19, about 11 minutes less than Draper’s average.
The school board is set to make a final decision at their Nov. 20 meeting.
For more information on OREd studies at Rockingham County Schools and redistricting options and maps, visit www.rock.k12.nc.us and click on RCS Pathway to Transparency.