Posted on: 08.12.2018 at 02:53 p.m.
By Diana Matthews
About three dozen people attended a meeting Friday at the Westside Community Center in Chadbourn to discuss the closing of Chadbourn Middle School and plan a strategy to appeal the county school board’s decision.
Facing budget woes, the Columbus County School Board voted last week to close the school and send the students to Evergreen Elementary School for the 2018-19 school year, which begins August 27.
CMS has about 100 students, and Evergreen Elementary School has 274. Students of both schools will move onto the campus of Cerro Gordo Elementary School, forming a new K-8 school, as soon as a building project there is completed. Superintendent Alan Faulk estimated that the consolidation might happen in the fall of 2020 at the earliest.
The CMS school building was formerly Westside High School (WHS), an all-black school, before integration.
James Green moderated the 7 p.m. meeting to allow community members to share feelings about the closing. He also said it was his hope to “re-present the case to the school board and the county commissioners if necessary.”
Green said that he was “not here as an elected official.” He serves on the Chadbourn Town Council, as does Colene Kelly, who assisted him.
“People are mad. They’re just totally upset,” Green said.
Praying for something good
Approximately 20 individuals spoke during the three-hour meeting, most without giving their names, to say that the closing would harm Chadbourn students academically and socially. “Chadbourn Middle School made me who I am,” said one young woman who was home from college for the summer. “The small teachers there would take time with the children. They won’t feel at home (at EES), and their performance will decline. We don’t know how the teachers there will treat them.”
“This school is so convenient,” said a single mother whose daughter is afraid to ride the bus. “My grandma drives her, but I don’t think she can go all the way to Evergreen. What am I supposed to do if she gets sick? I work. If I have to go get her, I can lose my job.” The woman wept as she said, “People’s lives were not considered.”
A 1950 graduate of WHS said that the closing had “just torn my heart out.” Although she hadn’t slept “the whole week,” and was “just hurting,” she said she prayed for “something good to come out of the situation.”
Voices of experience
Michael Powell served as CMS principal until last week and will now lead Columbus Career and College Academy.
Powell said that, in order to save money, it wasn’t necessary to traumatize CMS students by busing them to Evergreen, where the school buildings were “falling down.” Instead, “We have a school across town,” he said.
“Numbers make a difference,” said Jerome McMillian of Fair Bluff. McMillian defeated County Commissioner Amon McKenzie in the May Democratic primary in May and is running in November’s general election against Republican Randy Williams of Chadbourn for McKenzie’s District 1 seat on the county board.
McMillian urged listeners to get more citizens involved in the CMS cause. “I would’ve thought when I came here I wouldn’t be able to find a parking space,” he said. “I would’ve thought the community would be out here tonight.” A group of “two or three hundred head” at the next school board meeting could have a lot of influence.
“Unite together changes things,” he said. “The community needs to stick together.”
McMillian said it was important to “call the county commissioners, the school board, your (N.C.) House representative, your state senator.”
Rashad Roberts, who is running against Ronnie Strickland and Shane Enzor for Barbara Yates-Lockamy’s school board seat, said that the school board’s decision had been “a money thing” and admitted that “something’s going to close,” but he wants to see Chadbourn students attend school in Chadbourn until the new facility is constructed in Cerro Gordo.
“That flatbed truck that she (EES Principal Georgia Spaulding) had ready to roll Tuesday morning, she can turn it right around and come back this way,” Roberts said. “It’s called karma.”
Crystal Frink reminded the gathering to look beyond the short-term protest to a long-term plan for the historic building.
The meeting also touched on the subjects of charter schools, economic decision-making and social factors that divide the Chadbourn community and make it hard to unify behind a cause.
“Politics is politics,” said Harriett Epps. “Right now it’s about doing what’s best for the kids.”
Tuesday’s newspaper will have a more complete story of the meeting.