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Woodleaf residents: Don’t combine schools

By Steve Huffman
Salisbury Post
WOODLEAF ó Different location, same message.
Members of the Rowan-Salisbury Board of Education met Wednesday with Woodleaf residents concerning combining Woodleaf and Cleveland elementaries into a single school.
Gathered in the auditorium at Woodleaf Elementary, residents made it clear they don’t want anything to do with a consolidated school, the same message Cleveland residents delivered Monday when they had their public hearing with school board members.
Robert Hunter, a former principal at Woodleaf who’s now retired, urged school board members to keep Woodleaf and Cleveland separate schools.
“When I was here, I knew the name of every child,” Hunter said. “I’d be real hesitant about putting Woodleaf and Cleveland together.”
About 12 residents ó most of them parents ó spoke to board members, though close to 100 people were spread across the auditorium.
They clapped for each speaker. No one spoke in favor of combining the two rural schools.
This week’s public hearings were prompted by members of the school board who have discussed combining Woodleaf and Cleveland into a single 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 they’re just discussing options and a decision 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 date to the early 1900s, and each needs repairs. Several Woodleaf educators stressed as much Wednesday.
Principal Susan Herrington said only one of Woodleaf’s wells is working, and she dreads the day when she’ll have to call and tell parents to fetch their children because they have no water.
“It’s inevitable,” Herrington said. “It’s not if the water stops, it’s when the water stops. We need a new school.”
But Woodleaf should retain its own school with an enrollment of 500 to 550, a number the community will easily provide based on the number of subdivisions being built in the district, she said.
Fifth-grade teacher Debbie Reese described the school as “a charming building.”
But just as quickly she noted, “It doesn’t meet the needs of the children.”
Melissa Robbins, the mother of a fourth-grader at Woodleaf, said her son would ride the bus from 6:30 to 7:45 a.m. if Cleveland and Woodleaf are consolidated.
“That’s an awful long time for a young child on a bus,” she said.
Bubba Gregory said he attended Woodleaf and was “highly opposed” to combining the schools. He suggested school board members talk to Rowan County commissioners about possibly extending water lines to Woodleaf.
“It’s a good structure, in my opinion,” Gregory said. “If it’s not broke, don’t fix it.”
Another speaker suggested allowing Woodleaf and Cleveland residents to vote on the matter. “Let the decision rest solely on the people who know what’s best for their community,” he suggested.
Finally, Danielle Blackburn, a student at West Rowan Middle School who attended Woodleaf, addressed board members.
She looks back on her years at the school with fondness. “While I was here at Woodleaf, I felt safe and secure,” Danielle said.
Board Chairman Dr. Jim Emerson promised that the words of the Woodleaf residents wouldn’t be ignored. “What we heard here tonight will weigh heavily into any decision we make,” he said.
Contact Steve Huffman at 704-797-4222 or shuffman@salisburypost.com.

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