Some see consolidation plan as the right path for schools

Published 12:00 am Thursday, December 6, 2018

By Rebecca Rider

For the Salisbury Post

GRANITE QUARRY — While a proposal to close nearly a dozen local schools has rocked some parts of Rowan County, many residents of the East Rowan district are cautiously optimistic.

Wednesday night, Rowan-Salisbury Schools hosted the second of six informational meetings to explain the proposal to the public and invite input. The meeting was held at East Rowan High School.

“The big question we want to hear is what are your thoughts about the plan, and what are your ideas?” Shive Elementary School Principal Zebbie Bondurant said Wednesday.

Bondurant was one of several district employees who moderated small group discussions. For her, the issue is personal. While Shive isn’t flagged as one of the schools for closure — unlike its neighbors, Rockwell, Granite Quarry and Faith elementaries — it will still feel the effects in newly drawn attendance zones and possible classroom additions.

The proposal is a three-tier, more than 30-year plan that includes the closure or consolidation of:

• North Rowan and Henderson high schools.

• Knox Middle and Overton Elementary, to be replaced by a new K-8 school.

• Corriher-Lipe and China Grove middle schools, to be replaced by a new consolidated school.

• Faith, Rockwell and Granite Quarry elementary schools, to be replaced by a consolidated eastern elementary school.

• Enochville, China Grove and Landis elementary schools, to be replaced by a consolidated southern school.

It wasn’t too long ago, Bondurant reminded the group, that Shive was a new school muscling in on communities steeped in school tradition. Back then, parents flooded her office, lamenting the fact that their child wouldn’t be attending Rockwell or Faith elementaries.

“Give us a chance,” Bondurant would tell them.

She asked the same of Wednesday night’s group. However, there was some reluctance.

“I don’t know if any of us know if we like the plan or not,” said Tim Williams, a former mayor of Faith. “We don’t know enough about it.”

While the proposal lays out tentative plans for the closure of several schools over the next 10 years or so, it is in its infancy and district officials have few answers. For example, how would the closure of local schools affect small towns?

In Faith, Williams said, parents and students stop by Yosti’s Bakery or Faith Soda Shop for breakfast each morning before heading to school. In the summer, the town’s annual Fourth of July celebration is held on school grounds. What happens to the town if the school is closed?

“The schools are our heartbeat — especially for small towns,” Williams said.

Bondurant said she thinks the use of the word “demolish” in the proposal is giving people the wrong idea.

“We don’t have wrecking balls out here, ready to go,” she said.

For example, she said, after Cleveland and Woodleaf elementaries merge into West Rowan Elementary in January, parts of the old Cleveland Elementary will remain standing. The town of Cleveland plans to use the school’s old media center as a community center and as a western branch of the Rowan Public Library. That type of creative use is definitely still possible with schools named in the proposal, she said.

Brian Hightower, an East Rowan resident and baseball coach at East Rowan High, said he fells the changes could be a good thing.

“We’re behind the times,” Hightower said. “…We need to do these things because we’re investing in our future generations.”

Others emphasized that something needs to be done with school buildings that, in many cases, are close to falling apart. The county’s declining population is also a concern.

“As it stands, the county is not going anywhere. We’re flatlining. We’re digressing,” said Sgt. Maj. Chris Boardman of East Rowan’s ROTC.

While the change might be upsetting for parents, Boardman said, kids aren’t going to look beyond a new school building.

But that does not mean it won’t be a hard choice, he added.

“We didn’t leave a stone unturned, but it’s just that there’s no good answers,” he said.

“I get everything. I get it all. I just don’t like it,” one parent said.

But Bondurant wasn’t the only one who has lived through this before. The group included parents, teachers, coaches — or some combination thereof — who told their own memories of schools closing and opening. In the past 10 years or so, East Rowan has been rocked by the opening of Shive, Carson High and Koontz Elementary. Each construction called for redistricting and threw a wrench in the long-laid plans of many parents.

“We’re as much parents as we are teachers,” Boardman said, recalling his own experience.

Many at Wednesday’s meeting admitted the changes have been positive. One parent recalled that her son, who has asthma, used to be rushed to the hospital when he attended Rockwell Elementary. When Shive opened and he started school there, the problem all but disappeared.

“Some things you just can’t fix,” she said of older schools. “And when you’re talking about the health of your child?”

She shrugged.

The group had other questions, such as where the money to get the proposal off the ground would come from, when closures would start if the plan is approved and whether students from Faith would end up at East Rowan or Carson High School.

Bondurant answered what questions she could. If approved, funding to get started would hopefully come from $60 million in debt service the county will receive in 2021. If the proposal passes the Board of Education in January, students would not be pulled from schools until consolidated facilities are completed.

However, there are some questions that don’t have answers yet — such as the placement of a consolidated East Rowan Elementary, the impact on local towns and whether predicted population growth in the southern part of the county would impact eastern Rowan.

There are four more community input meetings scheduled, including:

• Dec. 11, Carson High School.

• Dec. 12, South Rowan High School.

• Dec. 18, West Rowan High School.

• Dec. 19, North Rowan High School.

All sessions will start at 5:30 p.m. and end at 6:30 p.m. Questions, concerns and ideas can be submitted to consolidation@rss.k12.nc.us.

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