04/09/04 — To merge or not to merge?

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To merge or not to merge?

By Bonnie Edwards
Published in News on April 9, 2004 2:02 PM

CALYPSO -- The discussion is continuing on whether two high schools in Duplin County should be consolidated.

Parent groups have formed, one favoring the consolidation of North Duplin and James Kenan high schools and another opposing it.

Dr. Greg Bounds said North Duplin High School parents are nervous about other groups telling them they want to close the school and send the students to a consolidated school.

"We have no direct representation, because our school district splits across three voting districts," he said. "I don't know the legality of these circumstances, but it frightens North Duplin folks."

Henry Carr, chairman of the North Duplin High School Parent Advisory Committee, said, "We're fine as long as they leave us alone. But they're making decisions about us, and we don't know about it until we read about it in the paper."

Carr attended the school board meeting Tuesday, during which a spokesman for a group that wants to consolidate James Kenan and North Duplin high schools, Stephen Williamson, apologized for the way North Duplin parents found out about his group's plan. Williamson thanked the North Duplin group for coming to listen to his group's concerns.

He said the group believes a consolidated school will help create a more diverse population of students, improve academic and vocational opportunities, increase participation in extra-curricular activities and provide a wider variety of athletic programs.

This group is made up of people who live in the Warsaw and Kenansville areas.

Marvin Coe, a parent of two children who attend Warsaw Middle School, said the district is declining because school officials did not act on recommendations made in previous years. "The situation in James Kenan district has only worsened," he said.

James Kenan High School Principal Dora Jernigan said she's heard different solutions suggested by parents. All agree something has to be done about the old building.

"James Kenan is a wonderful school with bright, intelligent students ready to go out into the world," she said. "But they need a new school or a face lift at this building."

The building is also poorly designed, said Ms. Jernigan. The school office is in the same part of the building as the cafeteria and the gymnasium. At lunch, it looks like chaos, she said.

"But it's not chaos," she added. "It's just teen-agers at lunch. ... We've got a great staff and great students. We'll do what needs to be done. But the building gives a bad first impression, with air conditioners hanging out the front windows."

Bertha Taylor Miller has a daughter who attends James Kenan High School. She said she would love to know what the children want to do. Would they rather attend a small school or a larger school?

Mrs. Miller's father, the late Bill Taylor, was a coach and a principal at James Kenan. He told her people have been trying to consolidate the two high schools since 1958 when James Kenan was first built, but "it's been swept under the rug."

She thinks consolidation would benefit the community, "but you've got to do what benefits the children as a whole. If we adults can't come together, how can we expect them to? What's the most productive thing to do for the children?"

"The real issue," she added, "is where can the children get the best education?"

Combining the two high schools was recommended by the state several years ago. She said she wonders what the state would recommend now.

"I've heard a million different opinions, and I could say I don't care, because it won't affect my daughter. She will be graduated by the time it's built. But I do care. Do we have selfish reasons, or have we looked at how to get our children better educated?"