Students, families explore new West Rowan Elementary School

Published 12:00 am Saturday, January 5, 2019

By Andie Foley

CLEVELAND — A hum of excitement could be heard from room to room Friday as students, families and community residents navigated the halls of the new West Rowan Elementary School.

The meandering crowd had just left a ceremonial ribbon-cutting and dedication service in the new combined cafeteria and gymnasium. Now it was time to get acclimated.

“Look at all this space,” some said. Others: “Look at this furniture!” “Look at your new view!”

But the brightest eyes and widest smiles were not because of the surroundings, the technology upgrades or the expanded space. The greatest elation came as Cleveland and Woodleaf Elementary students discovered the little things in their new classrooms, the recognizable pieces that had made the journey from their previous schools, said Rowan-Salisbury Schools Superintendent Lynn Moody.

They were name tags on desks, recognizable posters, and favorite decorations.

“That makes it feel like home to them,” said Moody.

Home is where West Rowan staff and students will be Monday as they start the year in the newly consolidated school.

Many at Friday’s ribbon-cutting voiced anticipation for the new beginning. Lori Swink, a Woodleaf resident with her second-grade son, Garrin, said the new facility is different and exciting.

“It’s got better technology,” she said. “It’s fresher and brighter.”

Others praised the single-story layout. Bryson Ellis and Takiera Stockton-Myers, third- and fourth-graders from Cleveland, said they are looking forward to days that don’t involve treks up and down the stairs.

Of course, with all things new comes trepidation. Sherry Dunlap, a relative of Bryson and Takiera and a former Cleveland Elementary student, worried about the old building’s future.

“I just hope they don’t tear it down,” Dunlap said, recalling fond memories of the space. The steps were treasured in her time, she said, “because when you went upstairs that meant you were with the big kids.”

Still others lamented the break in familiarity, and the new — and for some — longer commute.

Tabitha Benfield, mother of Woodleaf students Layla and Cohen, said the new site extends her morning drive from three minutes to 14.

“The school is huge. It’s nice,” Benfield said. “But it’s a farther drive for me, so I just don’t know if I’m too thrilled about that.”

Greg Edds, chairman of the Rowan County Board of Commissioners, said Friday’s opening was about far more than the building itself.

“Today represents a new beginning, the realization of a new dream, a physical display for all to see of this county’s commitment to excellence,” Edds said. “We did not construct a new elementary school; we created a new, shared vision for two wonderful communities. We did not construct a new educational building; we created new expectations of excellence.”

Moody agreed, adding that the new school will greatly improve learning for West Rowan’s 615 students.

“When heating and air is correct, the natural lighting is correct and students have the opportunity to go to school in a building that’s a clean environment, it dramatically affects their academic performance and their ability to engage,” she said.

Commissioners Vice Chairman Jim Greene called the new site a “no brainer.”

“Roofs don’t last. Bathroom facilities have to be changed. As Woodleaf has encountered, the wells were giving out,” Greene said. “If people would come to see this facility from other parts of the community, I think that they would be much more appreciative of what the Board of Education is trying to do by talking consolidation.”