County school plan draws tough ‘grades’

10:29 am | February 6, 2013

Carter County residents aren’t being shy about grading a proposal that would put all the county’s high school students into a single facility and close five elementary schools.

And they’re not exactly handing out As.

Carter County school board members listened to the proposal, from the Long Range Facilities Planning Team, at Monday’s workshop; although the information has been available for public viewing online for nearly three months, the details had not been discussed among board members until then.

“My children are very young, and I worry about how such a major change would affect them,” said Christy Whitehead, whose children attend Keenburg Elementary.

“For my children’s sake, I hope Keenburg stays right where it is.”
The proposal would, in fact, eliminate Keenburg, along with four other elementary schools: Unaka, Valley Forge, Range, and Central.

In addition to the elementary school closings, all four county high schools would close, with a new high school built as close to the county’s geographic center – off of Gap Creek Road along U.S. Highway 19E – as possible.

Desie Gentry, who runs the Beck Mountain Corn Maze, offered her take on the plan as well: “When you’ve got something that’s going fine, why mess with it?”

To handle the redistribution of the student population, the number of county middle schools would increase to handle all students between sixth and eighth grade. Hampton and Unaka high schools would convert to middle schools, while Happy Valley Middle School would remain, though it could relocate to the Happy Valley High building.

School Board Member Jerry McMahan, who headed the LRPC’s study group, addressed some of the public’s concerns, but also added that the current school system needs to change.

“If we don’t do something, it’s going to bankrupt the county,“ McMahan said. “We can do it now, or postpone it for 15 or 20 years, and it will cost a great deal more.”

Financial improvements aside, one of the main concerns offered by the public was the issue of overcrowding in the schools.

Norma Carr, who teaches third- and fourth-grade math at Keenburg, said she worried about educational failings with big classrooms.

“The more kids in the classroom, the less one-on-one time a teacher has with the students,” Carr said. “I can see how this is going to help with money, but not how it’s going to enhance education.”

According to McMahan, education would be enhanced in a larger school by allowing an expansion of the curriculum. If there are more students, McMahan said, it would allow the implementation of specialized classes to broaden students’ horizons.

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