04/07/04 — Three solutions given for Duplin schools

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Three solutions given for Duplin schools

By Bonnie Edwards
Published in News on April 7, 2004 2:04 PM

KENANSVILLE -- It looked as if a 1,000 people turned out Tuesday night to argue for and against consolidating high schools in Duplin County.

Most of them were parents of students in either the B.F. Grady, the North Duplin or the James Kenan school districts.

Sheriff's deputies watched as those who could not find seats lined the walls and spilled into the hall and into the cafeteria of Kenansville Elementary School. The Board of Education had chosen the school for the meeting in an attempt to accommodate the large crowd.

Parent groups from the three school attendance areas offered proposals to address school problems of overcrowding, racial imbalance and poor academics.

One group wants to merge North Duplin and James Kenan high schools; another says it wants to keep the high schools the way they are; and a third group seeks a high school for the B.F. Grady school district.

The parent groups began developed their plans after the school system and the county formed a committee last year that has been working to find money to build a new middle school for Warsaw and E.E. Smith students.

B.F. Grady School parents reiterated their request for renovations. They propose a school building to accommodate 1,000 children from kindergarten through eighth grade and building a new high school that would house 450 students. The elementary school, which was built for 450 students, has almost 800 attending now and is expected to have 1,000 by 2015.

Marvin Coe, who has two children attending Warsaw Middle School and favors a consolidated high school, said there needs to be better racial balance and better facilities to attract people back to the James Kenan High School district. He said the parents feel politics has had a hand in the demise of the district.

"We need to correct this before it becomes unsolvable," said Coe. "We feel our district has been ignored too long, and we ask that you now take a serious look into solving this issue."

The parents want a consolidated high school with about 800 students, which they feel would be small enough not to discourage community support and would be large enough to be cost-effective.

Stephen Williamson of the James Kenan community said a merger of the high schools would create a more diverse population of students, improve academic and vocational opportunities, increase extra-curricular activities and allow for a wider variety of athletic programs. He said it's not their desire to destroy what North Duplin High School has achieved, "but to join forces with them to create a new high school that better serves the students."

Dr. Greg Bounds, speaking for a group of North Duplin High parents who oppose consolidation, said the consolidation group's solution is premature and based on outdated research.

Since 1990, there's been a shift in mindset about schools, said Bounds, who has children at North Duplin. "Our political leaders are realizing small schools are best for our students.

"We have the highest proficiency scores in the county -- 83.4 percent," Bounds said of North Duplin. "Ninety-nine percent of our students are going to college. ... Fewer kids would participate in powerhouse football teams.... Data shows smaller is better, and 400 is ideal."

Bounds added that a new consolidated high school would cost $30 million. He said the system would be abandoning functional space at North Duplin and James Kenan.

"Can we afford to abandon them and borrow $30 million? Do you want to spend it on bricks and mortar and then not be able to afford programming? ... We are not getting everything we want. We have not been spoiled. We'll concede it's James Kenan's turn, and we will wait for James Kenan to have its turn."