OXFORD — Granville County’s school board has once again backpedaled from one of the decisions stemming from its school-consolidation debate, this time agreeing to delay by a year a one-grade downsizing of the district’s middle schools.
The move to postpone until 2023-24 the proposed conversion of middle schools that now serve grades 6 through 8 into schools only for seventh and eighth grades came during the board’s Monday meeting, after members reported on the results of their “listening tour” of the district’s campuses.
Most said they’d fielded questions and concerns during the tour — which they launched after rescinding a November decision to merge South Granville and Granville Central high schools — from teachers about the idea of moving sixth-grade programs to the district’s elementary schools.
The questions included whether sixth-graders would be taught by teams going forward, like they are in middle schools, or in single classrooms like their counterparts in kindergarten through grade 5.
And the concerns included a request for enough notice from the central office to current sixth-grade teachers about potential reassignments that they “could make decisions” in a timely way about working somewhere else if they don’t like the plan, District 5 board member Gregory McKnight said.
Compounding that, McKnight and Superintendent Alisa McLean said, is that it’s about time for the “choice fair” that gives parents the chance to say which school they want their children to attend.
As the board said in December it wanted to implement the downsizing of the middle schools in the 2022-23 school year, there are still decisions to make about the sixth-grade program at a time when the district would normally be in full-on marketing mode for it, McLean said.
She said the district needs to put “our best foot forward” at registration time.
“Typically, this sort of staff is known to staff in November of each year so we can prepare registration documents” and marketing materials, she told the board. “The difference now is without knowing some of those intricate details, it’s very difficult for schools to say this is what we’re offering.”
“So without knowing that in the next couple of days — literally days — it’s really hard to compete with our peers with regard to the choice fair,” she added. “When I put on my parent hat — what I need to know about my baby for next year — right now, we’re not ready to show people. No one is really ready to say what we’re ready to offer.”
McKnight agreed, and proposed the year’s delay. “I feel like we’ve missed the window to do this in 22-23,” he said. “There’s too many variables right now.”
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The board’s consolidation debate stems from the enrollment the district has lost in recent years to charter and private schools, which has left many of its school buildings underused. The board in 2019 closed two schools in northern Granville County, Joe Toler-Oak Hill Elementary School and Mary Potter Middle School.
Members had also debated a consolidation of schools on the southern end of the county, and under pressure from the Granville County Commissioners had settled on merging South Granville and Granville Central.
The move was also supposed to benefit the middle-school program because G.C. Hawley Middle School, near Creedmoor, is aging and needs an expensive renovation county commissioners balked at paying for. The merger of the high schools was supposed to free up the South Granville campus to house Hawley’s programs.
But complaints from elected officials representing the Creedmoor area prompted the board to reconsider and ultimately reject the high-school merger. The idea of downsizing the middle schools came with that, and meant to free up classroom space that would make it easier to relocate Hawley’s program somewhere else.
District officials noted that a potential closure of Hawley remains on the table, with the school board due to review a state-mandated closure study in the coming months.
Monday’s debate indicated that for at least one board member, the outcome of the consolidation debate isn’t settled.
Leonard Peace, who represents District 4, the middle portion of the county east of Stem to the southern reaches of Oxford, said he believes the board should close Creedmoor Elementary School and eventually move Hawley’s programs to that campus.
That would “disrupt the fewest number of families,” save the school system money and provide long-term stability for all concerned, he said.
But another member, District 2’s Tom Houlihan, in effect said considering the idea would do more harm than good.
“If we change where we’re going right now, we are making a big mistake, one because of public perception, two because the board can’t make a decision and stay with it, and three because I think it puts the teachers and a lot of people, faculty members, up in the air again,” Houlihan said. “And if we heard anything in the listening tours it was, ‘Please, leave us alone. Make a decision and leave us alone.’ ”
Contact Ray Gronberg at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 252-436-2850.