08/06/08 — Duplin school board hears protest

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Duplin school board hears protest

By Steve Herring
Published in News on August 6, 2008 1:37 PM

KENANSVILLE -- Duplin County Board of Education members were taken to the woodshed Tuesday night by a succession of 13 speakers, each building on the comments of the person before them as they all shared one message -- for board members to produce their facts and figures to defend their consolidation plan for North Duplin Jr.-Sr. High School in Calypso, B.F. Grady Middle School in Albertson and James Kenan High School in Warsaw.

Rather than using switches, though, consolidation foes brandished studies and research papers mixed with doses of personal experiences.

They also submitted petitions with more than 2,000 signatures.

The school board wasn't the only target. Large consolidated schools took a beating as well, as speaker after speaker used those same studies and research to support small community schools.

All told, 21 speakers, only one of whom supported the plan outright, paraded before the board meeting held in Kenan Auditorium to accommodate a crowd estimated at 650. Several others asked for a new James Kenan High School.

The 13 speakers ranged from children to adults. All three school communities were represented, as were several races -- white, African-American and Hispanic.

Meanwhile, for two hours prior to the meeting, approximately 200 persons toted signs as they marched and chanted in protest just down from the auditorium. Another 100 or so people gathered nearby.

The first speaker, Steven Williams of Warsaw, presented the board with a petition in favor of consolidation. He said studies dating back to the 1980s indicated that consolidation was needed.

He said there was little difference in student performance between the small North Duplin and the larger East Duplin High School at Beulaville.

The anti-consolidation speakers relied on the research and study to question school board members about their contentions that a consolidated school in the Westbrooks Crossroads community would be cost effective and that larger is better.

They also painted such a school as lacking in student participation and parental involvement, both hallmarks of smaller community schools.

In addition, they said smaller schools are more personal and provide a better learning environment, while experiencing fewer disciple problems, dropouts and drugs.

Mike Davis said that one school board member has been quoted as saying that the primary reason behind consolidating is to form a large, centrally located high school that would be more cost effective.

"First, I would like to remind you that while we all appreciate your being frugal, we would appreciate more your keeping our children's education as your top priority rather than the almighty dollar," Davis said.

He added that the school board has failed to respond to numerous requests for a cost analysis showing why building the school is more cost effective.

"The research is compelling and if you do not sit up and take notice you are doing a great disservice to the students whom you are supposed to be representing," said Maria Williams of Albertson. "It is their best interest that should be in your hearts, not your own personal agendas."

She said the trend across the nation is toward creating small community schools.

"And here you sit, trying to do away with exactly what so many school systems would give anything to have," she said. "We fully expect you to want to read more and find out more about this issue so we have brought for you copies of two very well written and easy to read studies that are considered landmark studies in this field."

North Duplin graduate Peggie Parks of Calypso said she had taught at Southern Durham High School in a school exactly like the one the board has proposed.

"I am disgusted because my family moved back to Duplin County for one reason only - so that our children could attend a small, community high school - we certainly didn't move here for the hot social life and all the amenities. And now you are determined to take my children's school away and put them in exactly what I was trying to protect them from."

She added, "The way you put this issue on the table and voted on it one month ago was wrong. We know it and you know it. This crowd, the people who put you in office, fully expect you to put this issue back on the table for discussion, give it the proper amount of discussion and consideration it deserves, have the public hearing that is called for before you kill three community's schools and do your homework to prove to us that creating a large school is educationally, not fiscally, the right thing for our children.

"North Duplin, B.F. Grady and James Kenan are part of the lifeblood of the communities in which they are located and we do not intend to lose them. If you think that little group of parents from the School of Engineering got your attention in court last month, you ain't seen nothing yet."

"In researching why smaller, community based schools are more effective for student success, over and over again studies and articles point out that these schools have far fewer discipline problems than the larger schools," said Dr. Tayanna Day of Calypso"

She added, "I ask you, given such overwhelming data proving that a small community based school is a safer environment for our children, why in the world would you ever consider putting them anywhere else and costing the taxpayers over 60 million dollars to do so."