Parents worry for their school family
CHARLOTTE – In an 8-1 vote Tuesday night, school board members made official what Davidson IB parents already feared: Their South Street school will close at the end of the school year, and their program will move to J.M. Alexander Middle School in Huntersville.
After an agonizingly long meeting Tuesday, Nov. 9, stretching from 6 to 11:45 p.m., the board voted on changes affecting about 60 district schools, effective next school year. Though hundreds jammed the meeting room and more than 100 spoke to the board, Davidson IB parents, who appeared in droves just six weeks ago, did not speak.
“There wasn’t anything we could do to change their minds,” said Davidson IB Parent-Teacher-Student Association President-elect Pam Dolaher. She is one of many Davidson IB parents who fought hard to keep the school where it is.
The vote followed six weeks of discussion, which began Sept. 28 when the school district administrators released a list of schools identified for changes, including closings and consolidations.
Administrators cited two primary reasons for moving the IB program:
• The Davidson building needs substantial, expensive renovations.
• Limitations to the building are limiting access to the program, which has 258 students and more than 200 on a waiting list.
Moving the IB program to Alexander Middle, at 12201 Hambright Road, also will make better use of the Huntersville facility, which currently operates well below capacity.
Facing another year of substantial cuts to public school funding, district administrators expect the Davidson IB/Alexander consolidation will save $734,123 the first year and more than $670,000 in savings every subsequent year. Overall, administrators expect the district-wide changes approved Tuesday will save nearly $10 million in the first two years and more than $6 million every subsequent year.
Prior to Tuesday’s vote, board members and district staff held community forums at area schools and invited the public to share concerns and possible solutions.
About 100 Davidson IB supporters turned out for the Oct. 7 community forum at Hopewell High School, dressed in blue and white and toting “Save Davidson IB” signs. The school filled three classrooms during breakout discussion sessions, and about 15 Davidson IB parents and students spoke during the open-microphone time, more than any other school that night.
But no one from the school spoke at Tuesday’s school board meeting.
When it came time to vote on the proposed change, at-large member Kaye McGarry was the sole voice of opposition to the Davidson move at the dais. She moved to postpone the consolidation indefinitely, saying moving the school out of Davidson would be a “travesty.”
“I say put academic achievement over anything else,” she said. Davidson IB is known for strong academics and has demonstrated achievements, including winning the national championship at the Future City competition last year and an award of excellence from the Magnet Schools of America in May. McGarry worries that taking the IB program out of Davidson, where it has established relationships with Davidson College and other community organizations, and shifting to a partial IB will “destroy” it.
But school board member Rhonda Lennon supported the proposal as written and remained quiet during the discussion. She has supported moving and expanding the Davidson IB program since the staff first proposed the change and doesn’t think the move will harm the program.
“We made three votes last night to move three very successful programs to bigger facilities,” Lennon said, referring to the board’s vote to move the Davidson IB, Smith Academy of Languages and Villa Heights programs. More J.M. Alexander students will be able to enroll in the IB program, and the IB program could lift the entire school, she said.
Administrators have not said how they will expand the IB program. District staff members plan to consult school administrators at J.M. Alexander to determine how many students the school could accommodate next year, Planning Specialist Dennis LaCaria said.
“It’s been an uphill battle,” Dolaher, the IB parent leader, said, “due mainly to the fact that our own district representative was instrumental in removing (the school) from Davidson. “But now the focus needs to be on making the move, for those who chose to move.”
“It is up to everybody who is committed to the program to put aside their hard feelings and focus on making the transition a good one,” Lennon said. “Now is the time to get involved,” she said.
The school board and district staff plan to schedule meetings with Davidson IB staff and parents to plan the transition.
“The Davidson community and family need time to grieve,” PTSA President Ruth Pilsbury said. “It’s a heartbreaking loss, but I am confident that, ultimately, the families and staff will make the transition as smooth as possible.”