My turn, Vicki Fink: What will be lost by closure of Faith school this year?

Published 12:01 am Sunday, March 24, 2019

By Vicki Fink

My husband and I retired to Faith three years ago. As a relative newcomer, I do not presume to have answers for the challenges facing RSS when operating costs far exceed allocations.

I do have questions about a pending proposal. Primarily, my question is whether actual savings realized by closing a small school like Faith Elementary really be worth what Rowan-Salisbury Schools would lose?

One could contend that RSS is producing quite a bang for its bucks at Faith. Student achievement is the primary purpose of schools.

End-of-grade achievement scores document and distinguish Faith as one of the district’s top schools. Wouldn’t it be informative to examine data that compare annual achievement growth at each school with its actual operating costs and determine where expenditures achieve the best results? Perhaps RSS would learn taxpayers are receiving a better return at Faith school than at most others.

Combinations of many factors contribute to high student achievement, especially in a Title I school like Faith, and combinations vary in each school because needs vary. It takes hard work to discover successful combinations and more hard work to fine tune and maintain as students grow and change.

Should RSS close a high-performing community school and eliminate the synergy of successful combinations working there? What is that loss worth?

Just how much money actually would be saved? RSS data estimates average annual maintenance costs per school, and subsequently the average annual savings after closing a school, at $153,123. With a smaller school, are costs for Faith considerably less than average?

Would closing Faith save RSS anywhere near as much money as closing a larger school with greater annual maintenance costs and a student population that does not approach the 81 percent capacity rate at Faith?

Currently on Faith Road, an entrance is being prepared for a subdivision of 250 houses. Many will contain families with children, and Faith school is less than 1.5 miles from that entrance. Is it wise to lose a school in close proximity to 250 new dwellings?

Data being utilized in pending decisions also includes the ages of RSS schools. Older schools receive values that increase considerations for closing them. The year used to determine the age of Faith is 1929 — when its original building was constructed. Large portions of the school are much newer, including the kindergarten wing, cafeteria, gymnasium and media center. Shouldn’t the age of the entire physical plant be considered? Furthermore, part of the original structure was renovated last summer.

Why renovate and close the school less than a year later?

I am ashamed to admit that when I made my first trip to Faith School, I was taken aback by its appearance, primarily by the age of the building containing the office and many classrooms. Going no further than the office, I assumed that day, based upon first impression, that Faith was a school that had not “kept up with the times.”

It only took one visit to a classroom to prove me wrong and remind me of a truth about education easily overlooked — the age of a building, the modernity of its technology and the money poured into programming and maintenance do not determine the effectiveness of schools.

The quality of the learning community created as teachers and students interact is most vital to the success of learners.

Also, a school is more effective when it is well supported by parents and the community as a whole. I believe this happens in Faith. RSS’ strategic plan 2017-2020 holds “develop community schools” as a major goal. Faith Elementary is a successful community school. Closing it is in direct opposition to a worthy RSS objective.

Finally, would uprooting Koontz students be fair to them? Many are struggling learners. RSS must effectively address their educational needs. They require the best resources RSS has to offer.

Would it not be better to equip Koontz teachers, who know their students, with additional resources to maximize achievement rather than force these children to assimilate into new environments without adequately addressing their needs?

I implore RSS to take time making decisions about consolidation and redistricting. The old adage “haste makes waste” threatens to apply in this situation.

Data drives school decisions. Administrators and board members must seek specific figures and examine data carefully. I hope they identify schools that effect highest student achievement compared to actual costs. I hope they affirm that tax dollars being invested in education at Faith are yielding great returns. I hope they consider intangible benefits inherent in community schools.

Why rush to close this community school? Will that facilitate delivering effective intervention strategies Koontz students need? Truly what would RSS gain by closing Faith School?

Vicki Fink lives in Faith. A retired public school teacher with a career spanning more than 40 years, she has been named teacher of the year in five schools and a regional semi-finalist for N.C. Teacher of the Year.