The future of Parrish High, Sipsey Elementary/Jr. High and T.S. Boyd Elementary/Jr. High schools lies in the hands of superintendent Jason Adkins and five board members. The called meeting was held in order to allow selected members from those communities to speak in hopes of keeping their respective schools open. And, the speakers came prepared with research, statistics and data to support their arguments.
“Our school anchors and unifies our community. It serves as a cultural melting pot where we all come together as one, as a family, despite our socioeconomic differences,” said Andrew Wright, a 2005 graduate of Parrish High. “... In 2013, the town of Cordova had $62,000 in state sales tax returned to the county for educational purposes. The town of Oakman had $94,000 in sales tax returned to the county for educational purposes, whereas the town of Parrish had $240,000 in state sales tax returned for educational purposes. This is $84,000 more than the other two municipalities combined.”
Wright touched on the effects the closings will have on transportation, the differences in smaller and larger schools and their impacts on children’s education and the overcrowding of Cordova and Oakman high schools. He also mentioned how the school has excelled, and continues to excel, even though it faces socioeconomic issues. Wright requested that the board look at Parrish High School as a separate entity from the two elementary/jr. high schools and grant the high school with a 12-month reprieve to prove “how sincere and diligent our efforts and desires truly are ... We are committed, we are prepared, we are neighbors, we are friends, we are family, but most importantly we are Parrish.”
Josiah Robinson, a current senior at Parrish High School, spoke following Wright’s lead and gathered applause and even a few “amens” from the crowd, which was close to 100 in attendance. Robinson began with how well the Tornadoes performed in athletics this year and the previous year. He even mentioned seeing Adkins at this year’s 1A state basketball championship game.
Robinson mentioned how Parrish High does lack in the academic department, but he blames that issue on a number of factors.
“I think the real reason Parrish falls behind is its instability. In my six years at Parrish High School, I’ve had three different principals, four different band directors, four different football coaches, five different English teachers and eight different history teachers, all in my six-year span. How on earth can consistent growth occur in this environment?” Robinson questioned.
He continued to add, “Parrish has 30 businesses including Son’s, Dollar General, Bank of Parrish, a dentist’s office, Case Knife outlet and even Gorgas Steam Plant is under our industrial jurisdiction. Parrish’s yearly tax revenue has steadily increased. ... There’s no doubt that Parrish is investing in the board, but how much is the board investing in Parrish?”
Lisa Cordell and Chasseny Lewis spoke on behalf of the school and the community of Sipsey. Cordell touched on how not only closing the school will affect the kids, but it will affect the town’s revenue and emergency departments.
“The factors such as the reduced revenue of our town is due to possible movement of community members which adversely affects the community’s businesses. This reduced revenue of the town will affect the possible loss of police and fire protection of its citizens,” Cordell said. “Can you ensure faculty and staff jobs? Can you ensure the safety of our students who maybe transported possibly an hour or more to a school? Have students with special needs been considered for the duration of the bus route, and will aids be required on those routes with those students?”
Lewis backed Cordell by stating, “I urge you to consider delaying the closing of the school in allowing the principal and the faculty to serve a two-year term extension. This extension will give the administration time to make the necessary improvements in staff and curriculum to help improve the school’s overall performance ratings. ... I urge you to reconsider a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach. I urge you to reconsider the consolidation approach. Perhaps it’s another short-term fix to our long-term budget challenges.”
Last on the agenda to speak was Georgia Harris representing T.S. Boyd. Harris is a mother, grandmother and great-grandmother who wants to see her grandchildren finish their elementary and junior high years at the small school.
Harris asked about the children’s transportation back and forth to a different school, the students’ participation in sports, and what their reaction will be without the one-on-one attention from their teachers.
“The elementary school, that’s my heart,” Harris pleaded with the board.
Adkins replied at the end of the meeting by saying he appreciated the well-prepared speeches and the conduct of those in the crowd, but that he and the board are at a “crossroads” regarding the system as a whole.
“We hear you, we sympathize, and understand the opposition, but we just have a prevailing duty to uphold. ... I think it’s for the greater good whatever we do,” Adkins said. “We think there’s a lot more that we can offer.
“... I can’t answer and do for what has already been done and make decisions based on the past, and I think that’s what the issue is now. We’re trying to create a better future and if you remove emotion and look at the facts, there’s some truths that present themselves. There’s a big gap between what’s true and what’s accepted.”
Following the meeting, Adkins addressed the overcrowding concerns at Cordova and Oakman high schools saying, “There’s going to be more than enough room.”
Regarding teachers, Adkins said, “That’s the elephant in the room, but we’ve talked to our teachers and they’re prepared for the fact that there will be a reduction. Not a reduction in force, we’ve got so many non-tenured teachers that we will not have to do that.”
When asked if the speakers’ comments swayed his decision making, he replied, “Well, no. I understand the emotion and a lot of the facts were study-based, but ... there are studies that take up a particular topic or a position and then you can find one that counters that and juxtapose that takes another position and hold them up and compare and contrast them. But, I know in my heart that there is a better existence for the Walker County Board of Education and, in particular, these students that have been given the least stand to gain the most.”
The next meeting will be Thursday, April 10, at 4:30 p.m. where board members will vote on the future of these schools.