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Faith community rallies to protest school closure proposal

FAITH — Victoria Lane is a mother of two, and when she moved to this small Rowan County town in 2005, its elementary school was part of the allure.

Faith Elementary is a good school and the town is a good place to raise a family, Lane said. Now, Lane is among the many Faith area residents who are worried that Rowan-Salisbury Schools might close a vital part of the town.

It’s a mind-boggling consideration, Lane said. If the school closes, what’s next? Would a local store go out of business after the school closes? Maybe a church?

Children who would be shuffled to a neighboring school after the closure wouldn’t be in a familiar environment and might struggle in class, Lane said.

She was one of more than 100 people who gathered Thursday evening at Faith Elementary to develop a plan and take action against proposals calling for the school’s closure. Organizers and local residents alike came with a laundry list of questions.

In November, the Rowan-Salisbury school board heard a recommendation to close and consolidate a number of schools. Faith Elementary was included in a so-called “Tier one” plan, which called for building a new East Rowan Elementary School to replace the Faith, Rockwell and Granite Quarry schools. Now, the school board is considering several redistricting scenarios — three of which would shutter Faith and move its students elsewhere.

Parents, students and alumni of North Rowan High School rallied and contributed to a decision by the school board to hold off on closing that school. Now, residents of Faith are hoping to do the same, creating a plan to argue why their school should stay open.

“This is not just about the school. It’s about our community,” said Tim Williams, a former mayor of Faith who’s helping organize a group protesting the proposed closure.

Thursday’s meeting wasn’t intended to incite anger, Williams said. Instead, organizers gave updates on the school system’s plans and encouraged residents to contact members of the school board to politely express their displeasure. While he did not name the person, Williams said he spoke to a school board member about the possibility of closure. The response was that Faith Elementary has a 50 percent chance of being closed, Williams said.

If that happens, the town might not survive, Williams and others said.

“This is their home and where they want to be,” Bridgette Martin said about her children.

Residents were encouraged to wear red, attend school board meetings at 1 p.m. Monday and 5 p.m. March 25, and sit together at the front of the meeting room to make a statement.

And while neither organizers nor others were sure of a solution to keep the school open, they had plenty of questions.

Why would the school board divide a community when officials have spoken about the important of community schools? Where would students go to middle and high school? Is the district staff driving the closure and consolidation discussions instead of school board members? Is the plan to close Faith really an effort to spread out high test scores into other schools in the system?

Meanwhile, if, as in one proposal, the school system closes Faith along with Enochville and Mount Ulla elementary schools, would that really rein in the maintenance costs of aging buildings?

Another question: Why is the school system considering the closure of Faith Elementary when hundreds of homes are under construction in nearby developments?

Williams said a message he received from radio personality and Salisbury resident Kent Bernhardt summed things up well.

“I know the school system has to look toward the future and rein in cost, but they should never forget that the neighborhood school is often the heart of the community,” Bernhardt wrote. “When you close one, you forever alter the destiny and appeal of that community. The school board should walk carefully through this process.”

The Rowan-Salisbury Board of Education’s meeting Monday will be in the Wallace Education Forum, 500 N. Main St. in Salisbury. Redistricting is one of the items on the agenda.

Contact editor Josh Bergeron at 704-797-4248.

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