03/10/04 — Grantham, Mt. Olive high schools get thumbs up

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Grantham, Mt. Olive high schools get thumbs up

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on March 10, 2004 2:01 PM

Grantham residents were told Tuesday night that community high schools there and in Mount Olive will be included in the school board's proposed construction plan when it is sent to the county commissioners.

An estimated 520 residents turned out for a rally in support of bringing a high school back to Grantham. Five members of the school board and four county commissioners also spoke.

James Ray Cox, president of the Grantham High School Foundation, has been a frequent visitor at school board and commissioners' meetings in recent months. He said both boards have been receptive and supportive of re-introducing community schools into Wayne County.

"It's taken the Department of Public Instruction almost 40 years to realize they made a mistake going to mega schools," he said. "Have you ever heard that good things come back around? Community schools are coming back, folks."

Cox said the Grantham group has found land that could be used for the high school. He said the group has an agreement with the land owner that the land would not be used for anything except a high school. It is less than a mile from the current school, on U.S. 13.

School Board Chairman Pete Gurley said he had run his campaign on the platform of community schools. He agreed that Grantham's children have ridden too far for too long to get to high school. They go to Southern Wayne High.

Board member Shirley Sims taught at Grantham in 1965. She said she is excited about the possibility of high schools being restored in the Grantham and Mount Olive communities.

"It's just ridiculous for people to have to travel that far to come to school," she said.

Gurley said the school board supports the requests that have been made by groups in Mount Olive and Grantham.

"We're going to have a work session in about three weeks," he said. "To give everyone a plan that they want, all we have got to do is add Mount Olive High School and a Grantham High School.

"I believe I speak for every member of our board. When this (construction) plan goes to the county commissioners, it's going to have a Grantham High School in it."

State Rep. Louis Pate said that groups such as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation have already seen the need, investing $26 billion toward new schools across the country.

"One of the things that his foundation and the (state) Department of Public Instruction sees happening is that small community schools provide a quality education," he said. "In most cases, better than the large mega schools can provide."

School board member Lehman Smith said the decision to consolidate schools probably made sense at the time it was made. He recalled a graduating class of 26 students when he attended Rosewood High School.

"At that time, it was a move forward to consolidate the schools," he said. "To those board members it looked like the right thing and it probably was the right time."

The idea of moving forward today, though, means looking at community schools, he said.

He said the Board of Education has discussed it over and over and this is the route it wants to go.

"We have the plans that we feel that you need and what we feel that you need in both ends of the county," he said. "If we're going to get a bond passed, all of us have to go to work to get together behind this."

He said if the bond is included on the fall ballot and passes, Grantham students could be in their own high school as soon as the next fall.

Commissioner Atlas Price said a tax increase is assured if there is a bond referendum, but that he doesn't see any other way to secure community schools for the county.

"If you as a group will work to accomplish this, it can be accomplished," he said. "The Board of Commissioners can do our dead level best to work it out to see that you get what you want if we can pay the bill."

Commissioner J.D. Evans said that Wayne County has the potential to become one of the best education systems in the state, but it needs everyone to join forces behind it.

"We're counting on Grantham citizens to help us do this," he said. "The county commissioners are the 'funding fathers' for what has to take place, but money has to come from the citizens of Wayne County."

"I think I can stand on my own two feet and say the commissioners will help you do whatever it can to assist you in this."

Commissioner John Bell said he is "1,000 percent" behind education.

"If the people of Wayne County want this school, they have my vote," he said.

Commissioner Efton Sager said it will take a lot of work to make this happen but is convinced that the Grantham community will support its own school.

"I believe you're a people of faith," he said. "Pray a lot, because we need your help in making sound decisions, financial decisions, because we have got to represent all of this county."

School board member Rick Pridgen said it has done his heart good to see the Mount Olive and Grantham communities come before the board.

"Many groups have bypassed the school board on several occasions," he said. "You all came to the right channels first."

He said the buck doesn't step there, though, and thanked the county commissioners for its attendance at the meeting.

"We don't feel like we're lone ducks out here on this issue," he said.

He said it is a first step in the two boards being on the same page for what's best for the county.

School board member John Grantham urged the crowd to press on until their goal comes to fruition.

"I have spent 20 years in construction management," he said. "In the construction world, until you see concrete going in, don't count on it happening.

"Don't quit until you see concrete going in the hole."

Cox said that getting the message out in the community takes money.

"If the bond referendum comes through -- and we feel like it will -- just the labels alone to mail out information to voters will cost $1,100," he said.