EDEN — After public outcry over the planned merger of Dillard Elementary School and New Vision School of Science, Math and Technology, the Rockingham County Board of Education took a hard look at their December decision during their Jan. 22 work session.

On Dec. 11, the board voted 6-2 for Dillard students to remain at their Madison campus in a traditional calendar program, with the New Vision year-round school joining them under the same roof, contrary to the superintendent’s recommendation.

Parents and supporters of the schools voiced their concerns for about an hour to the board on Jan. 16, some arguing against the two-schools-in-one plan and others defending the decision to keep Dillard students in the same facility.

Superintendent Rodney Shotwell outlined the obstacles to fitting both year round and traditional calendar schools in one space at the Jan. 22 session. 

“Overall savings is negated by closing a school and costs are increased to serve a school with two calendars,” Shotwell said.

According to the superintendent, energy costs would increase as the district would eliminate the 4/10 days in the summer. This is because students would be in the building all but only six weeks of the year rather than the usual 16 weeks.

Putting the schools together would open up the possibility of singleton classes in certain grade levels in one calendar program or the other.

“We've had both of those happen in the past since I've been here,” Shotwell said. “… One of the reasons why those schools were changed to one calendar was because we were getting down to the point—I know at one particular school we were less than 12 kids in a particular grade level for one class and then, the kids in the other track, we had 23, 24 kids in those classrooms.”

The schedule would also eliminate common planning time for teachers to share ideas with one another.

“I know that for many of us, when we first started teaching back in the day, common planning really wasn't a thing,” the superintendent said. “We went in our classrooms, we did our thing and we moved on with business, but we've really made an effort. I think one of the reasons why our schools have improved our scores is because our teachers are talking.”

Shotwell added that this plan could create the perception of the “haves” and “have-nots” within the school. 

Teachers will lose planning time unless the district turns specialist positions into 11-month positions.

As the plan currently is, staff would maintain a 10-month contract. This would leave students without access to certain programs for extended periods of time, including physical education, art and music.

Additional months of employment would be recommended for these enhancement periods, Shotwell told the board.

An additional month would be needed for exceptional children’s teachers, testing coordinators, speech therapists, guidance, English as a second language, media, data managers, custodial services and others.

Based on floor layouts, Dillard Elementary School currently houses 26 classrooms. To run both schools at that location, officials have estimated a need for 28 classrooms.

“You could put two mobile classrooms out there or … you could use the art room and/or the computer lab or the music room to take care of those two classroom needs,” Shotwell said. “My concern is that the computer room or the music room would not be quite the size that you would need depending on what grade level might go in there.”

Rooms currently used for other services would need to be repurposed including those designated for the parent teacher association, ESL, EC and Title I.

This plan would also mean filling seven currently unused classrooms including a cluster of four in the 300 wing of the building.

“Up there in the 300 wing, we have the temperatures set to where it has to be really cold for it to come on and really hot for the air conditioning to come on so that we don’t want to create any environmental problems,” Shotwell said. “But at the same time, since we don’t have any classrooms up there, that is a way we are saving some money.”

That would no longer be possible.

Shotwell added that if all New Vision and Dillard students were on one calendar, only 26 teachers would be needed instead of 28 based on state mandates.

Dillard currently receives $590 in Title I per pupil funds for a total of $138,984.68 annually. New Vision receives no Title I funds. Putting both schools together could mean the loss of that funding stream for those students.

Despite the merger, the district would likely still need the same number of buses.

Rockingham County Schools recently explored the option of both schools sharing buses, but decided against it as student pick-up and drop-off times would change periodically throughout the year due to the different break schedules.

“The New Vision children started first, and so if I'm ... getting picked up by bus 77 and we're the only ones going to school right now, I might be getting picked up at 6:00 or 6:15, but with Dillard coming in as traditional and we're both going to school at the same time, that pick-up time is going to change just because they're going to be picking up more kids that way,” Shotwell said.

The same would happen for Dillard students when New Vision students go on break for three weeks during the year. 

“We had people who were very articulate from both schools that just said, ‘This is really something that y'all really need to kind of look at,’ and we did,” the superintendent said.

Some savings would be possible as the merger would mean no longer needing one media coordinator, one art teacher, one physical education teacher, one music teacher, one cafeteria manager, one data manager, one bookkeeper and 21 months’ worth of custodial employment.

The night before the meeting, Shotwell sent a survey to North Carolina superintendents asking how many had a dual calendar school. All 17 responses, ranging from small rural schools to larger schools, recommended against this idea.

Prior to opening the conversation to the board, Shotwell reiterated that his Dec. 11 recommendation was to reassign current Dillard students to Huntsville and Stoneville Elementary schools and move the New Vision School to the Dillard facility. Dillard students would be able to apply to attend the year-round school.

Board Vice Chair Bob Wyatt, who made the December motion, offered his defense of the decision.

“Please work with us in implementing this joint endeavor,” he said. “Quite honestly, and this is a fact, I felt that all parties involved would support this effort. … Please make an effort to understand that fair and equitable treatment of our students is not our choice. It’s our responsibility. We have already voted folks. We voted six to two. Let’s get on with the program.”

Board Member Ron Price added that he agrees with Wyatt and supports the board’s decision.

“I don’t think we can protect the parents and students by not doing things that are essential,” he said. “We've got a financial crisis, and there's going to be no way to get around it except making a big, huge tax increase and I don't want to see my taxes increase. Does anybody want to see their taxes increase?”

The crowd answered with murmurs and some arguing that they'd rather see their school stay open or to avoid the dual calendar system.

Both Board Chair Amanda Bell and Board Member Lorie McKinney, the two December “no” votes, voiced their opposition to the planned merger.

“I wish we could look at what was originally planned for this school,” McKinney said. “… In my opinion, we’ve seen where year-round can actually help students that are struggling in school because you have less gap between the summer and they also have a three week period to recharge. Even the teachers have said that, but it is the majority of the board's will on what is done to both schools. I just really wish some would reconsider.”

Bell spoke as the final voice in the conversation, emphasizing before her comments that she respects the majority rule.

“I am so sorry because, in my point of view based on experiences that I have had and some I think I still have in terms of how children learn and what’s best for children, this is not the way to go,” Bell said. “We have got to think about why we are here. We're talking about taxes and things. Let’s talk about children and how this is going to impact them. ... You all have voted. I respect your opinions but I had to say my piece.”

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Contact Justyn Melrose at (336) 349 -4331, ext. 6140 and follow @JMelrose_RCN on Twitter.

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