True to their school
By Catharin Shepard
Published in News on January 4, 2010 1:46 PM
Meeting organizer and Duplin resident Ralph Britt listens to comments from the community.
North Duplin School Board member Willie Gillespie speaks at a meeting of North Duplin parents Sunday at the Calypso Fire Station. Gillespie was not present when the rest of the board voted to consolidate North Duplin and James Kenan high schools. But he said he was only a short distance away, recovering from a medical procedure, and expected a phone call if the board took up such a serious issue.
CALYPSO -- A group of about 80 North Duplin parents and supporters met with two Duplin County Board of Education members Sunday to organize a response to the board's decision to consolidate North Duplin Junior/Senior High School with James Kenan High School.
Many of the people present commented that they did not feel they were informed enough about the details of the situation, and several spoke out against the vote to consolidate.
"Nobody's given me the information on how I can form an opinion," parent Suzanne Britt said.
The proposal to bus students from North Duplin to a centrally located high school is an expensive one, concerned resident Rodney Scott said.
"The transportation costs are going to be immense. ... We're going to be spending a ton of money on gas," he said.
Concerns noted by some school board members about the ability of North Duplin schools to prepare students for the future are unfounded, school counselor Gloria Morgan said.
"I think that we do a pretty darn good job of preparing kids for 21st century careers," she said.
Members of the group planned to attend this morning's Duplin County Board of Commissioners meeting to talk about the issue.
"We need to keep constant but positive pressure on the county commissioners. I think we need some taxpayers to be at that meeting," resident Roger Davis said.
Architect Robert Ferris is on the agenda to speak about school facilities at the meeting, but school board members Jennings Outlaw and Willie Gillespie told the group Sunday they were unaware of any official school board decision made to ask Ferris to speak to the commissioners.
Attendees used the opportunity to question Outlaw and Gillespie about their intentions, and asked both board members to bring up the possibility of holding a second vote on the consolidation facilities plan at the next Duplin County Board of Education meeting, which is scheduled for Tuesday night at 7:30 in Kenansville.
"I think you're on a good track right now. You've brought up a lot of pertinent points," Outlaw told the group.
Gillespie's absence during the school board meeting when members voted 3-2 to consolidate was another topic of discussion for the group. He underwent a medical procedure earlier that day and informed two members of the board about his condition, but later learned that under proper procedure, he should have asked the chairman's permission before leaving, Gillespie said.
However, he lives not far from the school board's meeting site and expected to receive a cell phone call before the board voted on anything, he said.
"I was not hiding under a rock," Gillespie added.
More public meetings on the topic might be forthcoming, Mrs. Britt said.
North Duplin parent Brandi Rouse took issue with the idea of consolidation, and said she is worried about what it would mean for her children and other students in Duplin County.
"I feel that combining the schools would be a terrible mistake because the class sizes would be bigger," Mrs. Rouse said.
It would also hamper after-school activities for children, she said.
"If the schools are combined and there is only one team, then a lot of the kids would have nothing to occupy their time and this would cause trouble," Mrs. Rouse said.
She said in the long run, consolidation would be a negative thing, not only for the students, but for everyone affected by the local economy.
"The school board does not seem to have the children's best interest at heart and are running their own agenda. We also need corporations to come into Duplin County to provide jobs, but that is going to be hard to achieve when the school board continues to stir up trouble," Mrs. Rouse said.
Although her children are now grown, Kim Lloyd-Houston said she still vividly remembers the way the North Duplin community responded to her family's needs when her father died several years ago. The education her children received, and the lessons that they were taught both in and outside the classroom, were intrinsic to helping them succeed, she said.
"My boys were far from perfect, but they are contributing, wonderful young men, that have since gone back to assist coaching at the school and within the community, I believe due to the fact that this small school with its caring staff showed them how to be a contributing factor and a leader for tomorrow," Mrs. Lloyd-Houston said.
The board members cited the school's small size as one reason for a move to consolidate, but it is the smaller size of the North Duplin schools that allows them to maintain the sense of community that helped her family through such a difficult time, Mrs. Lloyd-Houston said.
"I can say with conviction there is no way a larger school can offer children of any community more than what this wonderful school has done for my children. I hope that my grandchildren can continue to see this, as I hope that North Duplin will stay intact," she said.
Having lower enrollment numbers helps the faculty and staff to get to know their students, and allows students to benefit from having more individual attention, and consolidating the school to create a larger student population would be a mistake, Mrs. Lloyd-Houston said.
"Combining to become a larger school, students become numbers, not people ... I can only hope that those making the decisions weigh all the facts that we past and present parents give along with proven data points that have been provided on numerous occasions," she said.
North Duplin parent Tina Brewer's children are currently attending elementary school, but what is happening now will affect her family in just a few short years. She believes that consolidating North Duplin with other schools would affect students individually, and the school as a whole.
Many parents of students attending North Duplin schools know one another and are very much aware and supportive of one another's children, she said, calling it "almost like a community watch program."
The North Duplin community is tightly knit, but she feels certain that parental support and involvement would dry up under a consolidation plan, Mrs. Brewer said.
"I am now available to my child and the school for volunteering, programs and lunch visits as my place of business is within five miles of the school. I can pop in and out as needed. The consolidation and new location of a high school will change my participation and involvement to scheduled and pre-planned visits," Mrs. Brewer said.
She herself graduated from a consolidated high school, and does not want that experience for her children.
"I graduated from a local high school and know first-hand the ruins of a consolidated school. I graduated with over 300 other students and can't now tell you the names of not even half, and certainly remember less about their parents. My husband graduated from North Duplin with a little over 60 other students and he remembers all of his classmates, knows their parents, lives among his school peers and our children are now friends with their children," Mrs. Brewer said.
Faced with the possibility of sending her children to a consolidated public school, she is considering a different course of action: Withdrawing her two kids from the Duplin County school system entirely, and enrolling them in a private school when it comes time for them to attend high school.
"The school system is academically and socially killing the students of Duplin County, and I will not allow my children to be casualties," she said.