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Small town says no to big school

By Steve Huffman
Salisbury Post
CLEVELAND ó Residents here left little doubt of one thing Monday night:
They’re not interested in combining Cleveland and Woodleaf elementaries into a single school.
About 10 residents addressed members of the Rowan-Salisbury Board of Education during a special-called public hearing in the Cleveland Elementary auditorium.
Close to 100 people ó parents with children at the school, primarily ó were spread about the auditorium. Applause usually followed the pleas to school board members not to combine the two schools.
“This is more than a building, this is Cleveland Elementary,” said Kenny Allison, the father of four who attended the school.
Mary Taylor said the close-knit nature of the school was a huge plus for families in the community, with students and their parents often being friends with members of the faculty.
Taylor said she volunteers in the cafeteria at Cleveland, and said on those rare occasions when a student acts unruly, she can usually stop the antics with a simple threat.
“I know your grandma,” Taylor said she can tell most of the students at the school, those words typically putting a halt to the shenanigans.
Monday’s meeting was prompted because members of the Rowan-Salisbury Board of Education have discussed combining Cleveland and Woodleaf elementaries into a single, larger school. According to board members, constructing a single school would cost much less ó about $20.9 million for one school as opposed to more than $31 million for two.
Board members have stressed that they’re just discussing options and a decision on the matter is far from settled. Still, the board voted to make the combined school its top priority on a list of capital requests sent to the Rowan County Board of Commissioners last month.
Both of the schools were built in the 1920s and each could stand some repairs, though most say that Cleveland is in better structural shape than Woodleaf.
Together, the schools serve 717 students, a number that school officials said could be served by a single school.
Residents of Woodleaf will also have the chance to address school board members. A public hearing at Woodleaf Elementary will be held at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday.
Dr. Lane Graham, a longtime teacher at Cleveland, kicked off Monday’s presentation with a litany of reasons why smaller schools are better for students than larger schools.
Those reasons, Graham said, include more satisfying extra-curricular activities for students at smaller schools.
“Adults and students know and care about one another more,” Graham said.
Kellie Beaver, a Cleveland Elementary mother, said she didn’t want a 5-year-old riding a bus an hour-and-a-half to school as she said might be the case if the schools are consolidated.
“Cleveland and Woodleaf are close in proximity,” Beaver said, “but each with their own personality.”
Stacy Webb, who has two children at Cleveland, said the principal calls every child in the school by name, something that wouldn’t be possible at a larger school.
“Our children learn and do well here at Cleveland because we are a small school,” Webb said.
Jim Brown, Cleveland’s mayor, said the community takes great pride in the school.
“Bigger’s not always better,” he reminded board members.
Jimmy Green noted that students at Cleveland are flourishing. “Whatever you have working here is working,” he said.
But Green also pleaded with board members not to forget the school should the consolidation not take place and Cleveland Elementary exist in its present state for years to come.
“Lots of work could be done here,” Green said. “Please, step back and try to decide what’s best for the kids.”
Gary Taylor grew emotional as he addressed the board.
“It’d break my heart to even think you’d break a community up,” he said.
Dr. Jim Emerson, school board chairman, promised that board members would take into consideration what they were told Monday and what they’ll undoubtedly be told Wednesday at Woodleaf.
“You’ve been heard,” Emerson told the Cleveland crowd. “This is a great community. We’re certainly proud of your progress.”
Contact Steve Huffman at 704-797-4222 or shuffman@salisburypost.com.

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