Published 12:00 am Wednesday, December 2, 2009

By Holly Fesperman LeeSalisbury Post
A discussion about overcrowding problems at Koontz Elementary School quickly turned into a debate about at-risk students at Monday’s school board meeting.
In an effort to find a solution to overcrowding problems at Koontz, Rowan-Salisbury Schools staff proposed moving 73 students back to Granite Quarry next school year.
Sixty-two of those 73 children are minorities.
Fifteen of the children would come from an area near Old Concord Road that included Chantilly Lane and Colletion Place. The rest would come from an area near downtown Salisbury, including East Monroe Street, South Clay Street, South Shaver Street and South Long Street.
“It’s like we have a group of people that nobody wants,” school board member Kay Wright Norman said.
Superintendent Dr. Judy Grissom said it was her recommendation that children stay where they are because of funding issues and the potentially short notice for parents.
But if something needed to be done to ease overcrowding at Koontz ó and board members directed staff last month to investigate possible solutions to that issue ó moving the 73 students would be the least-disruptive option.
“I guess my bottom line question is, with the proposed transfer do we anticipate improved academic achievement at both schools?” asked school board Vice Chairwoman Karen South Carpenter.
“I think Granite will be in trouble,” school board member Dr. Jim Emerson said.
Norman said the schools “have an issue with teaching at-risk students.” She said staff development needs to be a priority for resolving that issue.”Where there are at-risk students, we need greater resources, the most experienced people and smaller classes,” Norman said.
“I don’t think we’re looking at the human element at all,” school board member Jean Kennedy said. Kennedy said she was concerned and angry about the situation.
“We are public schools and we must take whoever we get and move them. We must believe … these children can learn,” Norman said. “We’re not moving cattle here we’re moving people.”
Norman asked Grissom for her best recommendation at this point.
“My recommendation is for us to not move students at this time,” she said.
Grissom said she thought it was best to work within Koontz to make it better. That will give the school system time to find out which schools make adequate yearly progress and which will be schools of choice next year, she said.
“Koontz is not our only school experiencing this situation. I guess I have concern about zeroing in on this one school … We need a plan to redistribute resources,” Grissom said.
“Whether you want to admit it or not, it takes money,” she said.
Board members asked how quickly a plan could be established and implemented.
Grissom said she wasn’t sure how much funding could be freed up next year, but the plan could be created during the summer.
Patty Williams said she had a couple of concerns about the proposed move.
Koontz is only 19 students under capacity and Granite has space available for 153 students.
She asked if mobile units were available to move to Koontz.
“If we needed to put some mobiles at Koontz there are mobiles available,” said Gene Miller, assistant superintendent for operations.
Williams told audience members she had to say something. As her voice cracked she said, “I get really frustrated being such a child advocate when I can look in this audience and see people fighting against students coming to their school and others fighting for them to leave. These are children, not monsters.”
School Board Chairman Bryce Beard said the minor move was not the issue.
“These are all at-risk kids. That’s what the problem is,” he said.
Carpenter asked Delores Morris, superintendent for human resources, and Miller to clarify that “you did not target at-risk children.”
Morris and Miller said they absolutely did not.
Other neighborhoods and schools were considered in the move but other choices involved 250-plus students and at least three schools in every situation.
The neighborhoods chosen and schools involved represented the least disruptive scenario, they said.
Norman said she got the feeling from everyone who approached her that “the at-risk population is who they want to move.”
Carpenter said she’d have to disagree.
She said those who approached her wanted a smaller at-risk population so they could better serve those at their schools.
Emerson moved to keep students currently at Koontz there next school year.
That motion failed with Beard, Carpenter, Williams and Freeze voting against it. Emerson, Norman and Kennedy voted in favor of the motion.
Board members finally approved a list of recommendations from Morris and Miller that would make improvements within Koontz.
The improvements included converting a part-time literacy coach position to a full-time assistant principal position and working closely with the principal to set goals for next year and make sure staff development is focused on specific needs.
Emerson, Norman, Beard and Carpenter voted in favor.
Kennedy, Freeze and Williams chose to abstain.
After the meeting, two audience members from Granite Quarry said they were very offended by Patty Williams’ comments.
“I’m offended that she’s calling me a monster,” Glenn Stokes said.
He said Granite Quarry has been a failing school for years and smaller number of students has finally given the school a chance.
“It’s not about not wanting the children. That’s not it. We’re here because all children deserve a quality education and Granite is already suffering,” said Teresa Ward, Granite Quarry PTA president.
There was no time scheduled for public comment at Monday’s meeting because it was a special called meeting, but Ward did present a letter to board members.
Her letter gave several reasons the Granite Quarry PTA was against the proposal to move 73 children from Koontz to Granite Quarry at this time.
One reason was that the proposal would ask some of the same children who switched schools last year to switch again.
Ward also explained that Granite Quarry is in corrective action and may face further sanctions next year.
“Quite frankly, we, the PTA, are afraid that our school is not ready to take on such an added increase in our student body and fear that doing this would reverse the gains we have made. We need assistance, not additional challenges as we struggle to serve the students we now have,” Ward wrote.
Contact Holly Lee at 704-797-7683 or