BOE votes to close 3 schools
by Briana Webster
Apr 11, 2014 | 3934 views | 0 0 comments | 43 43 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Walker County Schools Superintendent Jason Adkins, at right, recommended that board members close Parrish High School and Sipsey and T.S. Boyd elementary/junior high schools during Thursday’s board meeting. Daily Mountain Eagle - Ron Harris
Walker County Schools Superintendent Jason Adkins, at right, recommended that board members close Parrish High School and Sipsey and T.S. Boyd elementary/junior high schools during Thursday’s board meeting. Daily Mountain Eagle - Ron Harris
A wave of emotion swept over the crowd at the Walker County Board of Education meeting Thursday afternoon as superintendent Jason Adkins and board members decided to close three public schools.

The board voted Thursday to close Parrish High School and Sipsey and T.S. Boyd elementary/junior high schools, which will go into effect at the end of this school year.

Adkins said he felt the sorrow and emotion from those in the crowd, but he stood by his recommendation of closing the schools.

“Well, today is the day. I know we’ve got some people that are going to be upset if this goes the way that I have explained and the reasons why that I was going to have to recommend that to be so. Nobody knows a board vote,” Adkins said. “I haven’t spoken with anybody on this board about that, but the reason that I was plain spoken last week was to where people would know where I stood so it wouldn’t be a shock when it got to this point. I think this is a sad day for this to be on the chopping block; these schools that have been there for a long period of time that have served their communities well, and nobody is certainly doing this for any other reason than they think it’s in the best interest of the children, if it is to be done.” 

The vote was unanimous for closing Sipsey and Boyd, but District 3 board member Bill Edd Gilbert was the lone vote against shutting down Parrish High School.

Gilbert’s district covers Cordova, Oakman, Valley and Parrish.

“Like I’ve said before, the town of Parrish elected me, and I made a promise to them. They’re my children, and I’m their voice,” Gilbert said after the meeting. “The only thing that really bothered me is, you know, that Parrish, the high school, it’s the heartbeat of the community. I just hate to see it close. I hate it for the others; it’s the heartbeat of their small communities, too.” 

Gilbert had no comment when asked why he voted for closing Sipsey and T.S. Boyd.

Sonia Waid, the District 4 board member who represents Dora, Sumiton, Sipsey and T.S. Boyd schools, said she heard a large number of negative comments from her communities, but she fully agreed with the decisions that were made Thursday.

“Mainly, since I’ve been on the board for seven years, the low enrollment at all of those schools has been discussed often, test scores have been discussed at those schools often. The lack of increased funding that we’re getting from the state, they’re not increasing what they’re giving us. With all those variables, from my standpoint, it’s purely a financial decision in order for us to move the entire system forward,” Waid said. “There are opportunities we could offer that we’re not able to offer now because we’re using our resources somewhere else, and this will allow us to get some of those resources pulled together and less redundancy and with that will come the benefit of having some funds to implement programs that we think will help children as they finish out of high school.

“It’s very emotional because I am from Sipsey. That’s where I grew up, and that’s where I went to school. I don’t have the luxury of being emotional. I’m responsible to 8,000 kids, and I love my little school and my little town, but I have to love the schools and towns of 8,000 other kids also,” she continued. “I had a lot of negative feedback from the community [about the closings]. ... I think plenty of people will be excited for their kids to go to the new facility in Sumiton and see it as an opportunity. That’s what we wanted to offer was an opportunity, a greater opportunity than what they’re getting now.” 

Not everyone in attendance was pleased with the board’s decision. Adkins bragged on the behaviors of those in the crowd, saying the meeting was “way better than expected” and how he continued to “be impressed with the people of Parrish and their students.” However, a large majority of people were not happy about the closings.

“I’m a junior, and I’ve been there since I was, well I went to kindergarten twice, so I’ve been there 13 years,” said a very emotional Sarah Cagle. “I’ve turned down moving with my momma to Double Springs, for example. I turned that down and being with my best friend, to stay and graduate at Parrish because that’s my home.

“That’s the only place I know, and it’s going to be hard coping with another school that’s not going to accept us,” she continued to say. “We’re a family at Parrish, and they’re not going to accept us like they should. We’re not going to be loved like a family there; it’s not going to be a family.” 

Josiah Robinson, a senior at Parrish High this year, was a key speaker at the last board meeting and has been extremely vocal on why he believes the school should remain open.

“I do not think it was right. I feel like there was some mismanagement on the part of the board. Even though Parrish started declining before they [the board] got in, but even so when they got in, they realized Parrish was struggling. I feel like they should have gotten out in front of the problem and given Parrish attention and nurtured it and invested in Parrish, rather than allowing it to fester and continue to decline and go downhill,” Robinson said. “We had a principal in there for six years. During that time, some things maybe got a little shaky, but we have a new administration this year; they’re great, they’re fantastic, they’re peppy and involved in Parrish, and they really want to see it succeed. This is their first year. It takes time to grow a school. It takes time to grow a community and to invest in Parrish and get that image back up.” 

Georgia Harris, who spoke at the last board meeting on behalf of T.S. Boyd, said, “How are you going to put 30 kids in a classroom when we’re used to only 15? Are you going to be patient with them? ... It hurts, but the Lord knows best, so it may be all for the better. We might grow more, mature more, but we’ll hold our kids hands and maybe they’ll learn how to walk by themselves.” 

As far as changing the school bus routes and dispersing tenured teachers across the system, Adkins said he and board members will look deeper into those issues at a later date.

“We are 100 percent committed to making sure that this transition is as easy as it possibly can be, and we know in our heart that it’s in the long-term best interest of their educational outcome. We know short term they can’t comprehend or understand that, so we feel like we have an apology to make for the short-term outcome of the pain and the hurt that something like this causes,” Adkins said, “but we also know that it’s our burden to bear with the knowledge that a few years down the road that these young people will be better off for having been exposed to more and better educational opportunities.” 

Adkins continued to say that “Hopefully, they’ll all bus to Parrish Elementary School, and then they’ll be able to choose where they go to school at either Cordova High School or Oakman High School. If the Alabama High School Athletic Association says that’s unacceptable, then we’ve got a busing route lined up for a cut off. Sipsey and Boyd are all going to the Sumiton school, with the exception of some on the Valley side, so very little change there.” 

Regarding the placement of teachers, he said, “We got a lot of tenured teachers, and we got a lot of non-tenured teachers, and that’s another tough part. ... There will be tenured teachers that have to be placed, so that means that there will be some non-tenured that unfortunately have to lose their job.” 

In other business, the board: 

•approved a regular personnel list, including the leaves of absence, resignations and retirements, with board member Dale Reeves abstaining from the vote.

•approved a number of school trips, including a $500 reimbursement for state Beta Club convention.

•approved the Head Start program self-assessment plan.

•approved the disposal of the Sumiton Head Start classroom when the new building is complete.

The next regular scheduled Walker County Board of Education meeting will be Thursday, May 8, at 4:30 p.m.