Merger candidate

Granville County’s school board faces pressure to consider merging South Granville High School (pictured) and Granville Central High School.

OXFORD — The Granville County Public Schools doesn’t have an off-the-shelf plan ready for merging its two high schools in the southern portion of the county, the district’s operations chief says.

But if it comes down to it, “we will use the same template for our other school closure studies, as that seems to cover the bases well,” and follow “the directives and timelines laid out by” the school board, said Stan Winborne, assistant superintendent for operations and human resources.

Winborne’s comments followed a joint meeting of the Granville school board and the Granville County Commissioners that saw the commissioners balk at the idea of spending $23 million to $30 million to renovate Creedmoor’s G.C. Hawley Middle School.

Instead, they prodded the school board to consider the possibility of closing Hawley, merging South Granville High School and Granville Central High School, and converting whichever of the high schools becomes surplus into a middle school.

Commissioner Zelodis Jay — who represents District 1, a largely rural portion of the county northwest of Oxford — was the first of the commissioners to float the idea.

“If we could go back to having a high school in the southern end of the county and a high school in the northern end of the county, and take and move Hawley into one of those high schools down there, I don’t think it would take you much,” Jay said. “It ain’t going to take you $30 million to make that happen.”

“I can’t see throwing money, as the old saying, throwing money into an empty hole,” Jay added, referring to the idea of renovating Hawley by tearing down a couple of existing buildings on that campus and replacing them with one to house the sixth and seventh grades.

And while Jay represents the northern portion of the county, the commissioners who represent Granville’s southern end by and large signaled that they too would be fine with the idea of downsizing to a pair of high schools.

Presumably, that would leave Oxford’s J.F. Webb High paired with either South Granville or Granville Central.

“I love [the Hawley] school and the history behind it, but I would just as soon move that placard to another location and put those children in a better situation than they are now today,” said Commissioner Tim Karan, who represents District 6, the area south and east of Creedmoor

“If we have to move the placard to Central High School and make that Hawley Middle School, change the name, let’s do it, and let’s go on to some of these other schools that need to be repaired and brought back up to standard,” added Commissioners Chairwoman Sue Hinman, whose District 3 covers the area northwest of Butner and Stem.

There were also no specific objections to the merger idea from Commissioners Russ May and Jimmy Gooch, who represent District 5 (Creedmoor and the Franklinton area) and District 7 (Butner), respectively.

Both echoed colleagues in noting that about 40% of the county’s budget goes to subsidizing schools. Gooch urged the school board to look for savings among administrative and teaching personnel, and May advised a revamp of curriculum, to include a boost of career and technical education “so we can get our kids who aren’t going on to college prepared for the next level.”

Nor were the commissioners the only ones open to merging high schools.

School board member Ethel Anderson noted that J.F. Webb is serving about 46% of the students it theoretically could handle, and that South Granville and Granville Central are each handling about 64% of their rated capacity.

“We need to look at, probably, some consolidations,” she said.

Winborne’s reference to a “template” alluded to the evaluation methods the school board used as it was deciding in 2018 and 2019 whether to close Joe Toler-Oak Hill Elementary School in the northern end of the county and Mary Potter Middle School in Oxford.

Board members on those occasions used such factors as building conditions and enrollment patterns to decide on a consolidation strategy.

The school board is also considering mergers at the elementary school level on the southern end of the county, as officials believe there aren’t necessarily enough students to justify keeping all three of Mount Energy, Creedmoor and Wilton elementary schools.

A consolidation at the high school level would see the Granville district follow the example of its northern neighbor, the Vance County Schools.

Going into the 2018-19 school year, the Vance district consolidated two high schools and two middle schools, combining grades 9-12 into a single Vance County High School on the campus of the former Southern Vance High. The former Northern Vance High campus became Vance County Middle School.

The loss of students to charter schools has been the driver of consolidation in both districts. Winborne said last week that the Granville district has lost 20% of its enrollment to charters in the past decade.

He said the board’s next moves will await the presentation on April 19 of a report from a strategic planning task force that will have some advice on how to reorganize the district.

Contact Ray Gronberg at rgronberg@hendersondispatch.com or by phone at 252-436-2850.

Contact Ray Gronberg at rgronberg@hendersondispatch.com or by phone at 252-436-2850.