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School closures discussed at forum

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Brian Miller speaks during a public forum for possible school closures Tuesday at Swift Creek Elementary School in Whitakers.

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BY AMELIA HARPER
Staff Writer

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

WHITAKERS — Nash-Rocky Mount Public Schools administrators and staff came Tuesday night to Swift Creek Elementary School to participate in the first of three public forums designed to allow community members to express their thoughts about the proposal to close the three oldest elementary schools in the district.

Swift Creek Elementary School, which is 69 years old, is one of the schools under consideration for closure. Red Oak Elementary, which is 86 years old, and Cedar Grove Elementary, which is 65 years old, also are targeted for possible closure. In their place, school officials have floated the idea of building one new state-of-the-art elementary school somewhere in the Red Oak area, a concept that appears in an official grant proposal sent to the state last year.

However, Superintendent Dr. Shelton Jefferies said the idea is not cast in stone.

“These public forums allow us to provide information to you and gather information from you,” Jefferies said. “School staff will use this input to present a range of suggestions to the school board about feasible options and the school board will make a final decision. The whole process will be transparent.”

Brian Miller, chief of staff for the school district, and Shannon Davis, the district’s director of maintenance, presented a PowerPoint presentation to the roughly 60 people present at Tuesday night’s meeting. The presentation showed the number of students attending each school, the age of each school and the amount of property available at each school location. However, it did not offer any specific proposals about future school construction. 

After hearing the presentation and participating in an earlier invitation-only focus group discussion on the topic, Raymond Bullock said he agrees there is a need for new school facilities.

“I personally would like to see a new school constructed,” Bullock said. “This school already needs a lot of repairs. In five years, I don’t think we will be able to have the infrastructure the school needs to support the computers the students use to study and take tests. I want kids to have the best options to succeed.”

However, the top concern expressed by participants was the distance that buses would have to cover if the three schools are combined. Swift Creek Elementary School is more than seven miles from Cedar Grove Elementary School and almost seven miles from Red Oak Elementary School.

“In the past, I know kids had to go to school at ‘o’dark thirty’ and come home at ‘o’dark thirty,’” said Janice Perry, a former secretary for the school district. “These kids still have the same homework and chores as kids that get home 30 minutes after school and it is not fair for them to have to ride the bus so long.”

Jefferies said it is impossible to predict the length of future school bus routes without a site decision. However, he said that school board members are fully committed to looking at all issues that would affect student welfare.

“We are here taking notes and listening to what everyone has to say,” said Ann Edge, chairwoman of the Nash-Rocky Mount Board of Education. “These children belong to all of us and we are committed to doing what is best for the children.”

Most school board members and five county commissioners attended Tuesday’s meeting.

Nash County board Chairman Robbie Davis also weighed in on the financial aspects of the decision. Though the final decisions would be made by the school board, the county is responsible for funding any possible future discussion or remodeling through grant or county funds.

“The attendance in our schools is down. We have lost 3,000 students over the past 10 years,” Davis said. “We have to look at the funding that is available and whether we can support so many schools. We also have to look at what funding is available for new school construction. We are focused on this issue, but it is a very complex puzzle.”

Jefferies said the process of deciding and completing any new projects will take about three to five years.

The next public forum on the issue will be held at 6 p.m. Oct. 2 in the media center of Cedar Grove Elementary School at 8967 Cedar Grove Loop Road outside of Nashville.

The final meeting will be held at 6 p.m. Oct. 16 in the media center of Red Oak Elementary School at 5603 Red Oak Road in Red Oak.

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