We Wouldn’t Want It to Happen to Us

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It’s astonishing that the consolidation of the three elementary schools in southern Albemarle into one mega-school was proposed by school officials who ought to know better, and perhaps less astonishing that the Long Range Planning Committee that they appointed recently found the idea fit to recommend after further study.

It may not seem that western Albemarle has a dog in this fight, but of course we will have to pay our part of the unnecessary multi-million dollar school that this idea, if enacted, presumably near Walton Middle School, would force on Albemarle taxpayers. Moreover, we would carry, indefinitely, the expense of abandoned buildings and grounds that don’t have readily apparent alternative uses, especially in the locations they occupy.

The American ideal has always been the community school, just what Yancey, Scottsville and Red Hill Schools embody. Parents know that children at grade-school ages feel more secure and confident in smaller settings and with familiar faces. They can feel they belong there. Elementary education is about the most critical foundation of all subsequent education: learning to read. For this, an environment where a student gets the most personal attention is the most likely to produce prompt success. Becoming a good reader fast matters the most in learning. Middle school is soon enough to congregate students.

Ironically, when big schools are designed, architects typically try to break them up so as to create zones with the social climate that naturally exists in smaller schools. Monticello High School has separate wings for each grade level, for example, so as not to seem anonymously large. Why not just keep the real thing when you have it?

Southern Albemarle taxpayers normally watch a good share of their taxes go to other corners of the county where growth requires expanded services. All they really get is their community schools, each well-loved and with long traditions that deserve respect. To add insult to their injury, a mega-school would likely oblige grade-schoolers to wake up earlier to make longer bus rides, leave home in the dark in winter and make parents travel farther to participate in their child’s school. Ostensibly, parent involvement is something the school system tries to foster.

School leaders admit that the costs of the mega-school are higher in the near-term (however long that turns out to be) but say that eventually $1 million a year could be saved in operating costs. There are many easier ways to save a million in the County schools’ roughly $150 million annual budget. We might look at the salaries of those who push ideas like this, for example.

When a town hall meeting on the proposal was held in May, some 340 people took part and 81 percent were opposed. Just 51 percent is usually decisive. Western Albemarle would be just as outraged if it were our community’s schools that were at risk. Why is this boondoggle still being talked about? White Hall and Samuel Miller District representatives to the School Board and Board of Supervisors should be voting NO. Let’s move on to something worth discussing and leave good community schools alone.