woodleaf folo on combined school

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, December 2, 2009

By Holly Fesperman LeeSalisbury Post
The president of the Woodleaf Elementary School PTA says parents there are united and want to keep their children in a small school rather than merging into a larger school with Cleveland Elementary, as Rowan-Salisbury School System officials suggested earlier this week.
Melissa Ratliff, Woodleaf PTA president, said the group’s regular meeting happened to be Tuesday night and they discussed the school board’s proposal to combine the two schools into one.
Ratliff said she was clueless about the proposal until she read a Post article about the school board’s discussion.
Ratliff said she was aware the board was thinking about building a new school to replace Woodleaf, but she “had no idea the Board of Education was even considering combining the two schools.”
School board members approved a list of capital requests Monday night that named a consolidated elementary school to replace Woodleaf and Cleveland as the top priority. Dr. Jim Emerson, chairman of the board, has since said the school system will also give county commissioners an option that would include two new schools to replace the older ones, both of which opened in 1927.
Building one school instead of two could save the county $10 million, school system officials said. But it also would result in a 900-student school, and that prospect has generated a number of calls to the Rowan-Salisbury central offices.
“In a nutshell, I just don’t think it would be a good idea,” Ratliff said. “I think that’s just too many students for one school.”
About 75 people turned out for Tuesday’s Woodleaf PTA meeting and Ratliff said she raised the issue at the end of the night.
She said she went over the Post’s article then opened the floor for comments.
Ratliff said most parents’ concerns centered around the large number of students that would be in the combined school.
“They just didn’t think 900 students should be at one school,” she said.
Parents also questioned whether one large school would be enough with the housing growth that’s coming to the area, she said.
Ratliff said she didn’t take a formal vote, but no one spoke in favor of the combined school and parents seemed united against it.
“They wanted their children to be at a small school,” she said.
Stephanie Casto has a son in kindergarten at Woodleaf and she’s got another child on the way who will attend the school.
“The whole point of us wanting to be in this district was a small school,” she said.
“I’m not knocking Cleveland at all. I’m sure they need a new school just as bad as we do. But why combine them?” Casto said. “It just doesn’t make any sense to me.”
Casto is a homeroom parent and she goes to Woodleaf at least once a week to help out.
“My little boy just loves it,” she said.
If the school board decides to redraw district lines, Casto said her son might not even go to the new school.
“I’m closer to the north side than I am to the west. I’m right on that line,” she said.
Artie Watson, chief of the Woodleaf fire department, attended Woodleaf Elementary as a child in the late 60s. His two children also attended the school but are older now.
“I am of the opinion that I’d like to see two separate schools because of community identity,” he said. “I think a school is valuable to any community as far as a gathering point and a rallying point for the community.”
Watson also agreed with Ratliff and other PTA members that having so many children in one school isn’t a good idea.
Tina Jahnke has two children at Woodleaf. One is in kindergarten and one is in second grade.
“Obviously, Woodleaf is overdue for a new school, there’s no question about that,” she said.
But the idea of a combined school won’t “sit well” with Woodleaf parents, according to Jahnke.
“Cleveland and Woodleaf both have worked successfully as stand-alone schools for decades,” she said. “I think both communities worked hard to support their schools and turn out great students. I feel that both schools deserve to be left separate and to keep their own identity.”
Jahnke said she didn’t know the statistics but, “I don’t think there’s any other elementary school in the county that’s even close to that. You’re looking at longer bus rides for kids and increased driving distances for all parents.
“And I imagine that is going to generate a lot of traffic congestion during morning drop-off and afternoon pick-up,” she said.
“My personal opinion is that Woodleaf needs its very own new school. I feel there is something to be said for the togetherness that a smaller student body promotes,” Jahnke said. “And if woodleaf parents wanted their students attending large mega-schools then we’d live in large cities not woodleaf, N.C.”
Contact Holly Lee at 704-797-7683 or hlee@salisburypost.com.