OXFORD — Granville County’s school board has asked administrators to size up the possibility of closing Granville Central High School, and to update existing closure studies that focused on Wilton and Creedmoor elementary schools.
The request came Monday, in the first of a series of scheduled board debates that officials have designed to set up the possibility of making actual closure decisions by the end of June. They would take effect in the 2022-23 school year.
Board members indicated that they’re far from certain what they’d do with the Granville Central campus if they go ahead with closure, though converting it into a middle school to replace G.C. Hawley Middle School is a leading possibility.
The wording of their request also left open the possibility of consolidating high school operations on the southern end of the county on the Granville Central campus, which is near Stem. It is one of two high schools in the southern part of the county, the other being South Granville High School in Creedmoor.
Prior discussions have more or less assumed that J.F. Webb High School, near Oxford, will remain in operation no matter what the board decides about merging schools in the south.
Granville County Public Schools officials are considering consolidation — the system’s second such debate in less than three years — because their district has continued to lose students to charter schools. That’s left them with excess capacity at the elementary, middle and high school levels.
They are also facing pressure from the Granville County Commissioners to close a high school.
The commissioners refused earlier this spring to consider paying for a renovation of the Hawley Middle School campus, which is aging and in many respects sub-standard. Commissioners urged as an alternative the conversion of either Granville Central or South Granville into Hawley’s replacement.
Monday night’s discussion, however, showed that at least a couple school board members are worried that another round of mergers could actually make things worse for the district, accelerating a potential death spiral if more families react by enrolling their children in charter schools.
The possibility of “unanticipated consequences is one that concerns me,” board member Ethel Anderson said. “Some of the decisions we can make could drive kids away more to charters. That may tie into the one [other members have] about geography because of hardships on transportation.”
Board member Tom Houlihan agreed, and fellow member Glenda Williams noted that because many people living in southern Granville County work in Raleigh or Durham, the impact of a change on their daily commute make affect their decisions about where their children should attend school.
Houlihan floated a different idea for relocating Hawley’s program, urging that members instead consider converting Tar River Elementary School into a middle school.
He saw the possible benefits as including eliminating the need to consider closing Creedmoor or Wilton elementaries.
But his colleagues more or less rejected the idea. One problem, they said, is that Tar River would require an extensive renovation to accommodate older students because its designers sized most of its rooms and fittings for a K-5 clientele.
“From bathrooms to classrooms, everything in there is miniature, absolutely everything” apart from a few spaces reserved for teachers and staff, board member Amanda LaBrecque said.
Another issue is that the Tar River campus is short on outside space that could accommodate a middle-school athletics program. While it has acreage on paper, “behind the school and behind the gym it begins to slope off considerably,” said Stan Winborne, assistant superintendent for operations and human resources. “There’s also a retention pond back there.”
The flip side of a consolidation decision affecting the southern high schools is that it could free up enough money to put the academic offerings of the remaining two high schools on par with each other, members said.
“My daughter is going into ninth grade,” board member Gregory McKnight said. “We had our heart on one high school, but when we looked at the courses, she said the courses I want to take are at another high school. If you consolidated and made [just] two high schools, you’d be able to offer students more courses. That’s a win-win all the way round.”
The board is scheduled to review drafts of the requested closure studies on May 17, and officials want to finalize the documents by June 7. State law on potential school closures and mergers requires public hearings, which GCPS officials intend to hold on June 14 and 15 at locations yet to be determined.
Contact Ray Gronberg at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 252-436-2850.