St. Paul School changes opposed

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At a second public hearing, speakers voiced more concerns about a proposal to move sixth- and seventh-graders out of the Cana community school.

By Christopher Brooke, Reporter

HILLSVILLE — Busing middle school children from Cana to Hillsville would be similar to Carroll County sports teams riding to play away games in Franklin County, said one speaker at the second public hearing on the grade structure at St. Paul.
The difference is that Cana students would have to take the bus to Hillsville every day, not to the occasional away game, said Mark Beck, one of the 12 speakers who attended a Carroll County School Board public hearing on Nov. 13.
Several of the same people who spoke at the first hearing at St. Paul also attended last week’s meeting, but this time some of them had questions for the school officials as they consider what to do with sixth and seventh grades at the Cana school.
The possibilities range from leaving the grades where they are or combining them at Carroll County Middle School in Hillsville.
Parent Ronald McCraw remembered seeing a news clip with Schools Superintendent Strader Blankenship speaking about the potential positives to combining the sixth and seventh grades.
It’s hard for parents to see positives, especially when they see the wrecks that frequently back up traffic on Interstate 77, McCraw indicated.
The parents coming to the meeting saw that on their way up the mountain to Hillsville.
He figures there will be need for more buses, more fuel and more cost to take more students to Hillsville.
“I would like to hear the board’s input,” McCraw said. “I think that’s the biggest concern [for] a lot of people... understanding why we’re doing this. What would be the positives?”
People in Cana are much closer to North Carolina schools, he added. Even though it means high tuition, lots of parents make that choice.
“All the people in the community welcome a conversation. We would love to hear your side,” McCraw concluded.
School board members have questions as well, and expect to hear the answers at the December meeting, School Board Chairman Brian Spencer said. The members turned in a list after the first public hearing.
“You’ll be a part of that discussion, I promise,” the chairman said. “It won’t be done in closed [session].”

Business owner and county supervisor Phil McCraw spoke as a citizen, not as a representative of the county board. He said he felt this process is dragging on too long.
“I have been literally wrapped up with this St. Paul issue, far more than anything that would have to do with the board that I sit on,” he said. “People come to me [asking] ‘What can you do about St. Paul?’”
There may be positives to combining middle school grades, but the negatives far outweigh those.
If the school board is listening to the input from the community, the decision should be an easy one.
Phil McCraw suggested that if there are people in Cana who want their children to come to Hillsville for school, let them put the students out at the bus stop, with the older kids, to make that trip.
But don’t force the vast majority of people to do what they do not want, he added.
“I just don’t understand why we keep on beating this horse,” Phil McCraw said. “It’s a simple decision.”

Speaker Barry Towe feels that technology developed for distance learning would make up any class subject deficit at St. Paul.
It could also prevent what he experienced riding on Gary Easter’s bus in snowy weather, when all the boys had to get out of the bus and push it up a hill it was stuck on.
“Please look at the tools that you have at hand now, he said. “Even if you have a deficit of teachers, you can make that up electronically.”
Towe also thought it was “callous and rude” for this public hearing to take place on the same night that teachers had their parent conferences.

Grandfather Phillip McCraw [not the county supervisor] noted that all his seven grandchildren attend school in North Carolina just so they won’t have to go to Hillsville.
Interstate 77 presents too many hazards in crosswinds, fog, falling boulders, wrecks and big trucks.
“I mean we’re not asking much, we’re just asking for keep our children down there and educate them,” he said. “It don’t seem like a hard thing to ask. Please listen.”

Grandfather Eddie Vaughan, who also works for the school system, would not get on Interstate 77 in the fog, like that which blanketed the mountain the day before the meeting. Another concern is that the school gym is already full and there’s not much room in the cafeteria for more students.

Speaker Donnette Leonard wanted to know the opportunities that children would have if they came to Hillsville and what things St. Paul is missing.
Spencer answered that the school board needs to look at educational programs and costs, as well as the possibilities with the online classes through the Virtual Academy of Virginia.
If there are two functioning middle schools, then there needs to be equality.
“That’s why we are taking our time on this,” the chairman said. “You don’t want to do something in haste. We need to look at every option.”

Speaker Patricia Sebens asked the school board to leave the sixth and seventh graders at St. Paul and bringing back the eighth grade.
“You already have someone hired, I believe, who can teach Algebra 1...” she said. “Virtual Virginia has Spanish, Chinese, French and Arabic that they’re offering now, starting with seventh grade.”
The current school was remodeled to have a middle school there, she said. It would make the change to school in Hillsville a one-time transition.

One thing the school board has done in terms of transportation is petition the state to let school buses travel south on U.S. 52 instead of Interstate 77, Spencer said.
“They go down [the steeply inclined] Bent Mountain to go to Roanoke County,” he said. Spencer added he’d personally rather drive on 52 rather than 77 when it’s foggy.
In regard to a conflict with parent teacher conferences, Spencer said the school board set the second public hearing up in September.
It might seem like having two public hearings on the subject is stretching out the process, but that would give people a chance to attend at least one of them, the chairman said.
“There has been I think 180 school events to now,” he said. “We are never going to schedule our board meeting around every event.”