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School board agrees to hold public hearing on Henderson Independent closure

By Carl Blankenship
carl.blankenship@salisburypost.com

SALISBURY — Henderson Independent School is facing possible closure at the beginning of next school year, which would change the location and possibly the delivery of Rowan-Salisbury School’s alternative program.

The school serves a small number of students, and those numbers fluctuate throughout the year, often as the result of a serious conduct violation.

At Monday night’s Board of Education meeting, Associate Superintendent of Operations Anthony Vann said the day-16 enrollment count at the school was 37.

Vann said the school, which turned 100 this year, has significant capital needs. Board members Dean Hunter and Alisha Byrd-Clark have both mentioned a visit to the school for a ceremony and sitting in a room filled with buckets on the floor to catch water leaking through the roof.

The board was in agreement the facility is inadequate, but members were also concerned about the fate of the program if it were to change significantly.

Board member Jean Kennedy said she knows the program needs another location, but added she is concerned about the program becoming, effectively, a school within a school and not completely removing alternative students from the environment where they got in trouble.

Board member Susan Cox echoed Kennedy’s concerns that the program should be preserved. Several members commented that the program is effective, and that is reflected in the number of students at the school. Assistant Superintendent of Advancement April Kuhn said students spend less time in the program before being returned to regular schools because the staff at Henderson have been successful.

Board member Travis Allen said he thinks the district’s culture has changed to where not as many students need to be referred to the program as well, which Kuhn confirmed.

The district plans to create a committee that would look into a new way of managing the program, with possible night school, blended and virtual models to be made available to alternative students.

Kuhn said some students have done better with all-virtual classes while others have not. Kuhn added that at the time of year, there would normally be about 10 long-term suspensions, but this year there are none.

Conduct issues across the district have declined to a fraction of what they were this time last year, according to data presented to the board in September.

The district has thousands of empty seats in other facilities, and Hunter said it is clear there is enough capacity in other facilities to house the program elsewhere.

Kuhn said there is no timeline for a committee yet.

Vann said the district’s idea is to prepare a new school for closure at the end of this school year and have new arrangements for the program in place for the 2021-2022 year.

The board agreed to move ahead with closure considerations, which will require a public hearing and a final decision at a follow-up meeting. The district already prepared the required closure study but the board did not schedule the public hearing.

The district has grappled with consolidation for years as it faces declining enrollment that creates an increasing number of empty seats in old facilities with increasing capital needs. Administration projects at least $500,000 in annual savings per school it closes in addition to concentrating resources.

The district scheduled virtual closure hearings for Faith and Enochville elementary schools on Monday and Tuesday of next week.

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