City should honor unique communities

Published 10:58 pm Friday, January 2, 2009

I write this letter not as a School Board member or former City Council member, but as a lifelong resident of the Holland community and a fiscally conservative individual who places a high priority on equal and just educational opportunities for all our children.

My opposition to the consolidation of Southwestern and Robertson Elementary schools is as strong as my opposition was to the single-high-school concept proposed in the 1980s. In fact, the consolidation proposal for Southwestern and Robertson has far less vision, due to the factors of the ages of the children involved, the future growth expected in these communities and the governor’s proposal that 4-year-olds should attend public-school pre-kindergarten programs in the future.

Now let us take a brief view of the Holy Neck and Whaleyville boroughs. The two encompass nearly half the land area in the city. If Suffolk continues to have steady growth in the future — and it will, despite agriculture — we owe our citizens educational facilities that are second to none.

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We have 14 elementary schools in Suffolk, with six of them located within approximately four miles of the downtown Suffolk core. Those six schools have enrollments ranging from a high of 600 to a low of 260 students. With the privilege of traveling only a few miles each day to attend schools, these students enjoy the neighborhood schools concept. This is exactly the opportunity children 4 through 10 should experience.

It was quite disturbing to read in the Suffolk News-Herald’s Dec. 17 edition that a city planner said, “They don’t have enough kids out there to actually populate those schools.”

I think people should know the facts pertaining to all 14 Suffolk elementary schools. Southwestern and Robertson — along with Oakland, Booker T. Washington, King’s Fork, Driver and others — not only serve as educational facilities, but also as emergency shelters and for other city functions. They are the heart and soul of their communities.

It appears to me that, since these two boroughs are shouldering the major portion of the agricultural industry, children there should not be penalized educationally for living in a rural setting.

These communities are unique. Therefore, I express thanks to our School Board members who realized that distance, age, neighborhood/village concept, parental involvement and future growth were important factors in their position against combining these two schools.

I ask the City Council to approve the School Board’s proposal. Allow funds that have been allocated for one school to be used for the construction of a new one in Holland. I further ask the Suffolk City Council to continue exploring funding for the renovation of Robertson Elementary after the Holland school is complete.

I feel this proposal will have enormous benefits for the city and for our children.

I also remind City Council members that they must not walk alone. Due respect must be given to the elected School Board members, who were chosen to represent the citizens’ concerns and the desires of their communities.

Now is the time to prove to those of us who at times feel like orphans to the city that we are truly partners. Since the citizens of these two communities pay their fair share of taxes, it is their responsibility to share in the decision-making process pertaining to our children’s education.