12/16/09 — Schools will merge

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Schools will merge

By Steve Herring And Catharin Shepard
Published in News on December 16, 2009 1:46 PM

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North Duplin Junior-High School will be consolidated with the James Kenan school district, the Duplin County Board of Education decided yesterday. Part of the B.F. Grady district will also be consolidated. Many parents are upset with the decision.

KENANSVILLE -- The Duplin County Board of Education voted Tuesday to consolidate the North Duplin and James Kenan school districts, also including a section of the B.F. Grady school district in the action.

School Board member Emily Manning made the motion to merge. Board member Hubert Bowden of Warsaw was strongly supportive of the move to consolidate and seconded the motion.

Board Chairman Reginald Kenan, whose district includes James Kenan High School, joined those two in voting for the motion, which passed 3-2.

Board member Willie Gillespie, who represents the area that includes North Duplin Junior-Senior High, was not in the room at the time. Gillespie had undergone a medical procedure earlier in the day and had asked to be excused.

Voting against the motion were Chuck Farrior of Wallace and Jennings Outlaw of the Scott's Store Community.

"We think it is something that will help and benefit our children. As you know, North Duplin has a small enrollment. They cannot afford, we cannot afford, to continue to support a school such as North Duplin," he said.

The low enrollment numbers at the school limit the kind of education the students can receive there, Bowden said.

"You cannot have the kind of curriculum that is needed to support a 21st century education" with the North Duplin level of enrollment, he said.

The board members are aware that consolidation is an unpopular option, but the decision was made with the best interests of the students at heart, Bowden said.

"We know that it is something the parents do not want, but we think in the long run it's going to be positive for the schools," he said.

Bowden declined to comment on any plans for new facilities construction in any of the districts.

Despite the board's move toward consolidation, North Duplin Junior-Senior High School principal Debra Hunter said many people with close ties to the North Duplin community are unhappy with the decision.

"There's a lot of people very upset and feeling like they've been betrayed," she said.

North Duplin Junior-Senior High School is home to about 500 students in grades 7-12, and the close-knit community is dedicated to the school, she said.

"They like the way things are set up right now, and it works," Mrs. Hunter said.

A representative for North Duplin Elementary reported the school has not received official notice of the consolidation plan, and declined to comment.

B.F. Grady PTA President Mike Davis was among those upset by the decision.

"Our kids deserve more than that. Our community deserves more," he said. "I was not surprised how it happened. I could see the handwriting on the wall. With all that had happened in Raleigh, I had prayed, 'Please don't let it happen in my county.'"

Davis said he had been disappointed, but not surprised.

He said when board member Willie Gillespie left and the meeting resumed he had anticipated the vote.

"(The vote) was definitely not the wishes of the people in North Duplin, B.F. Grady and Warsaw," Davis said. "It is not what they wanted. If they are going to spend the money, then spend it on the wishes of the people."

Children learn easier and better when they are happy, transporting them another 5 to 15 miles is not the answer, he said.

Davis said some families will remain involved no matter where the school is located. However, for many more, it will be a struggle to attend athletic events, PTA meetings or other school functions, he said.

Davis said the school board chairman exercises a lot of control over what goes on the agenda and added that he feels like the school board is through with the issue.

As such, opponents probably will turn their focus on the county Board of Commissioners.

"I do not believe the county commissioners will pass it or finance it, but then I have been surprised by other things," he said.

Commissioner Frances Parks of Calypso, who represents the northern end of the county, said she had been at the meeting as a grandparent who had grandchildren in the school system.

"Everything I have ever read said that community schools meet the needs of students much better than larger schools," she said.

Bussing some students up to another 29 miles is not a good idea, she said.

Mrs. Parks said she had been told later that Gillespie had asked School Board Chairman Reginald Kenan to be excused.

"I am hoping that Mr. Gillespie asked to be excused," she said. "I understand that if you are excused that you have the right to vote. Nobody ever even mentioned that Mr. Gillespie was not there. I think that as chairman (Kenan) should have given the gavel to someone else during his presentation."

Kenan represents the district that includes James Kenan High School.

She said Kenan also used his expertise as a lawyer to maneuver the discussion and subsequent vote.

"I think it was not the right thing to do," she said.

The board already is split and such tactics do nothing to pull it together, she said.

"I don't think fighting like that helps the problem," she said.

Gillespie said he had been advised by doctors not to participate in normal activities for 24 hours after undergoing a medical procedure Tuesday, but he attempted to be part of the meeting due to its importance.

He did inform Kenan about the issue early in the evening, Gillespie said.

"I spoke with the chairman at the beginning of the meeting prior to the meeting starting and told him I had had a procedure done during the day," Gillespie said.