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Whiteville mother and son question city school board policy

Revised on: 07.17.2018 at 10:47 a.m.

Posted on: 06.20.2018 at 11:00 a.m.

By Diana Matthews

dianamatthews@nrcolumbus.com

A rising ninth grader and his mother spoke to the Whiteville City Board of Education Tuesday, June 5, requesting an exception to an attendance policy that has been in place since about 2010.

Holden Walker Justus recently completed eighth grade at Columbus Charter School and lives in the Whiteville school district. He petitioned the board to release him to attend Columbus Career and College Academy instead of Whiteville High School for ninth grade so that he could take advantage of CCCA’s Broadcasting and Communications Technology curriculum.

Holden shared a brief message explaining that he thought the broadcasting focus would be a good fit for his abilities and would help him develop skills that he could use for the good of the community.

Holden’s mother, Misty Justus-Baker, followed at the podium. Whiteville City Schools does grant transfer requests to some students wishing to attend West Columbus, East Columbus and South Columbus high schools, she pointed out. “Unfortunately, even though we pay city and county taxes, we are penalized for living within the city limits and restricted from CCCA.”

High hopes

When the three county high schools presented transition information to charter school eighth graders this spring at its annual “high school night,” said Justus-Baker, “they all offered Early College (through CCCA). We didn’t know that Whiteville didn’t offer it.”

WHS did not send a speaker to the charter school for high school night. They (the charter school) told me “Whiteville is never represented. They never come,” said Justus-Baker. “Nobody told us, ‘If you live in the Whiteville district, you won’t be allowed to come to CCCA, so maybe you’d better make other plans.’”

The opportunity to get a high school diploma and an associate degree in five years at no cost to his family appealed to Holden. In his comments to the board last week, he said that he struggled somewhat with “a short attention span,” but that he gravitated to the communications field.

In spite of some stuttering and ADHD, said his mother, “I don’t consider him disabled, but the schools consider him disabled, and he has an IEP (Individualized Education Plan). He makes excellent grades. But I know he would do best with something that’s interactive and hands-on.”

She knows that, wherever Holden attends school, a lot of his day will consist of sitting and doing bookwork: “He’ll do well with the sitting part, but he’ll look forward to the hands-on.

“I literally feel my child is being discriminated against because of where we live,” she said.

Holden’s mother has sought educational opportunities that make the most of her children’s abilities. She considered homeschooling, but her work schedule makes it “not feasible whatsoever,” she said. Holden and his sister both studied at Columbus Christian Academy for a time, but then “Holden wanted a larger class and more options,” she said; that was when she began sending him to the charter school.

When Holden heard about the practical career instruction at CCCA, said his mother, “I saw my son excited about school for the first time.”

Holden visited CCCA this spring to learn about the course offerings, then applied for admission and was put on a waiting list.

“I was not aware of the moratorium until CCCA called me after Holden had applied,” Justus-Baker said. “They told me he was on a wait list and most likely he would get in, but we would still have to get him a release.” When she and Holden asked for the release from the WCS district, they found out that there was a city district policy against releasing students to CCCA.

Background

Justus-Baker then did some research. “I read bulletins from previous (WCS) board meetings.” She believed the city’s moratorium began the year after the Early College was opened. She never found any record of anyone from Whiteville being granted a release to attend CCCA.

Justus-Baker said she knows that parents sometimes make use of a relative’s address to apply for a child to change school districts. “I’m aware of that. That’s the only way I think you could (overcome the moratorium),” she said. But she opted not to falsify her son’s home address because, she said, “It doesn’t seem to be the best way to do things. I told my son, ‘If you go about it honestly, you present your case, you go through the proper chains and hopefully they’ll listen to you.”

County schools superintendent Alan Faulk said that he thought the city’s moratorium against releasing students to CCCA predated his hiring in 2011.

“Originally, I think starting in 2005, the Early College was at Southeastern Community College, and all the county and Whiteville high schools let their students take part. Then Whiteville chose to pull out.”

Then Columbus County Schools received a Golden LEAF grant to establish CCCA in Fair Bluff. Students on one of the academy’s vocational tracks may spend all their time on the Fair Bluff campus, Faulk said, “or, once they see how they’re succeeding, they have the possibility to go to SCC and get college level classes. Students on the associate degree track start taking classes at SCC after a year, or even after just a semester, at Fair Bluff.” Either track can lead to earning community college and high school diplomas simultaneously.

City school superintendent Kenny Garland, when asked about the district’s policy, said that any time a student wants to attend a school outside the district where he or she resides, they must seek a release from their assigned district. “The Whiteville City Board of Education decided years ago not to release to CCCA.”

He acknowledged that some Whiteville residents do obtain permission to go to the traditional high schools within the county, and some county students likewise obtain releases to come to Whiteville; approval is not guaranteed, however.

“There are many from the county who would like to come here and can’t get releases,” he said. “This is a standard way things are done statewide.”

The city school board delegates to Garland the authority to approve releases to ECHS, SCHS or WCHS on a case-by-case basis, but not to CCCA.

College and Career

Meanwhile, said Garland, the city system has its own early college track, known as the College and Career Promise, which begins in 11th grade. It is possible for WHS graduates to collect more than 40 transferable credits toward college work or earn an associate degree, as 2018 graduate Jenna Blackwell did this spring.

“Our program is growing and very successful,” Garland said, and it is likely that several members of the WHS class of 2019 will get associate degrees.

Garland suggested that the typical plan for a rising ninth grader with aspirations such as Holden’s would be to talk with a WHS counselor about choosing eight classes for the coming year that would help him get ready for College and Career Promise. “You have to take English, math, social studies and science,” he said, “and most ninth graders take PE. That leaves room for three other subjects. You pick your eight, plus four alternates” in case the preferred classes are filled. “Ninety percent of our students get their first choices, though,” said Garland.

WHS will send a representative to the charter school next year to describe their course offerings, Garland said.

Justus-Baker stated after the meeting that, “WCS has a wonderful reputation, and this (College and Career Promise) would be a great option if they offered the same broadcasting program as CCCA.” Instead, she said, “The option for students in the WCS district to seek a non-traditional hands-on education starting in ninth grade is not a choice. They say they offer the same thing, but it’s not really equivalent” to CCCA, she said.

Request denied

In her comments to the city school board, Justus-Baker complained that WCS was putting a “hurdle” between her son and “his dream.” She questioned whether, when denying Holden’s request, the district was truly following its mission statement, “Everyone Committed to the Success of All Students,” and its vision statement, “Empowering All Students to Reach Their Maximum Potential for Lifelong learning and Productive Citizenship.”

Board chairman Coleman Barbour told Justus-Baker that she would receive a follow-up message from the superintendent within 30 days, as is ordinary whenever a citizen makes comments before the board. She did not have to wait for the message to know the outcome of her request, however, as Garland had included the question as the first action item on the agenda after approval of the May minutes.

Garland recommended that the board continue the early college moratorium, and the Board voted to do so.

“What do you do?” Justus-Baker asked later. “Nobody can give me a logical reason. We pay county and city taxes, but we can’t make the same choice everybody else can. That’s not fair.

“They won’t entertain the idea,” she said, “and they won’t give a reason why it was put in place to start with. I’m praying they’ll change it, if not now for Holden, then another time for someone else. It needs to change someday.”

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