Fall opening a slim chance for school

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The Grayson County School Board did not discuss or take any action on the Grayson Highlands School issues at its meeting on May 13.


It could happen.

The new Grayson Highlands School could open in August.

That’s what school officials indicated to parents, community members and other interested citizens attending the school’s first community meeting on May 6.

(Information presented at a school board meeting on Monday night seemed to cast doubt on the August opening, but school officials were still hopeful.)

Educators spoke to a packed crowd in the school’s new gymnasium last Thursday. Brand new bleachers were filled and still-wrapped-in-plastic folding chairs were carried out for latecomers to sit in.

John Alexander — Bridle Creek Elementary principal and soon-to-be Grayson Highlands’ principal — opened the meeting. Other school officials present to help answer questions from the crowd included Shannon Holdaway, Wilson district school board member; Dennis Roop, transportation coordinator; Steve Cornett, director of instruction and assessment; Chad Newman, director of personnel and operations; and Roy Anders, maintenance supervisor.

“We want to be a community school,” Alexander began. “Construction on our school is 99.9 percent complete.” he said. Gutters were being installed the day of the meeting. Punch-out work is being performed, as well as waxing on the floors throughout the school.

Alexander explained that core subjects will be offered to grades 8-12. The school is to be open for Pre-K through 12 grades. High school students electing to participate in the core subjects at the new school will be bused to Grayson County High School for elective subjects such as foreign languages and vocational classes. These students will still be considered Grayson County High School students.

The new school will offer music classes, with an emphasis on mountain music.

“We’re going to be the Eagles—we want to fly high,” Alexander said, referring to Grayson Highlands' mascot. “We want to host sports events here. We will push our students to excel. We want to emphasize fitness for all, not just students, but the community as well.”

Roop has mapped out transportation routes, Alexander went on to say. Bus routes will be published in time for the public to ask questions or voice their concerns before the new school year begins.

Turning lanes are close to becoming a reality. The board of supervisors will put these out for bid soon, and Holdaway said that at the last supervisors’ meeting, the board tentatively agreed to fund the turning lanes.

However, he was quick to point out that the supervisors did not vote on this issue. The construction process on the turning lanes cannot begin until the board votes on it. Holdaway also pointed out that the school board can’t spend any county money until the decision is voted on.

Many concerned citizens voiced their questions and opinions concerning all the controversy over the proposed turning lanes funding.

Holdaway was sympathetic, noting that he is a parent and member of the Wilson community, too. He said VDOT insists the school fix the crowning problem on the road directly in front of the school. Apparently, the crowning was constructed incorrectly and VDOT insists it is the school’s problem to correct.

Holdaway said the school board has tried to look at every alternative — such as asking for a red light — but requests have been denied. He went on to say that VDOT seems to have more requirements every time school officials tried to push for a solution in getting the new school ready for operation.

The school system has also been informed that it will have to install an automated light on Grant Grange Road at a cost of about $25,000.

An occupancy permit cannot be permitted for Grayson Highlands School without the turning lanes, Holdaway said. Special permission had to be granted to the school board to even hold this informative community meeting.

Open house will be held once all requirements have been met and the occupancy permit is granted.

Alexander informed parents that letters will be mailed to them concerning questions he has fielded asking what particular teacher their child will have. He hopes to have these in the mail sometime in June.

Expected enrollment was estimated to be around 165 or 170. Possible students could come in from neighboring Smyth County, as well as some from Independence Middle School.

Responding to concerns from citizens about high school students interacting with the younger ones, school officials assured the public that the older students would be separated. There would even be separate restrooms for the older students to use than the ones that would be utilized by the younger students.

As long as funds last, all schools in Grayson will offer Pre-K classes. Funding is available for the 2010-2011 school year.

As questions and opinions were voiced, some tempers did flare, mostly concerning the funding of the new school and the purchase of the additional two acres next to the school.

One citizen was told that, thus far, the school has cost $10 million to build. That citizen then wanted to know what happened to the remainder of the $16.3 million loan. (The original $16.3 million construction loan is for Phase I school facilities construction, which also includes an addition and renovations at Fries Middle School.)

Holdaway informed the community that the new school contract was available for inspection by citizens.

He went on to say that Grayson cannot afford 10 schools, as it has now. He said that, no matter what, Mount Rogers Combined School and Bridle Creek Elementary School would have been closed—new school or not. All students would have been bused to Independence anyway.

One person spoke with Holdaway later and asked what the school board intended to do with the empty building at Mount Rogers. The person thought the county could maintain the building and house the younger students instead of busing them down the mountain to the new school. Holdaway said that ideas for the empty building at Mount Rogers, as well as the buildings that used to house students at Elk Creek and Flat Ridge, may be converted to technical schools at a later date.

(Currently Flat Ridge’s old school is being used as a community center.)

As talks went back and forth between citizens and school officials, one person stated that, no matter what your opinion was, now was the time for the community to come together.

This statement was met with a huge round of applause.