One school or two?

Published 10:07 pm Thursday, June 18, 2009

The Suffolk School Board postponed a decision Thursday on whether to continue pursuing two new elementary schools to serve the Whaleyville and Holland communities.

Instead, the board decided to take a school bus tour of the bus routes for Robertson, Southwestern, Mt. Zion, Kilby Shores and Booker T. Washington Elementary schools for further investigation.

Discussion of the capital improvements plan dominated the first part of the School Board’s annual retreat Thursday morning at the King’s Fork Black Box Theater.

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Specifically, the discussion revolved around whether to create one school that would serve both the Holland and Whaleyville communities to press for new facilities in both areas. Prior to the School Board’s discussion, nine community members came before the school board to speak on behalf of separate schools.

Former Southwestern Elementary School Principal Lorita Mayo said the community needs to have its own school.

“I feel like it is our time to be on the receiving end of services from the city,” Mayo said of the Holland area. She added that the community’s children are achieving, but they need a new building to “meet the challenges of a 21st century education.”

Mae Burke told the board that her request was a simple one: To keep a neighborhood school.

“The Holy Neck borough needs and deserves its own school,” Burke said. “It’s the right thing to do. It’s the uncomplicated thing to do. It’s what you need to do.”

Even the students were represented.

Eleven-year-old Lee Saunders is a student at Southwestern Elementary School, and he wanted the board to know what his school means to him.

“I don’t think Southwestern should be torn down,” Saunders said. “It means something. It means we love it. My parents went there. My aunts and uncles went there. Let’s save Southwestern.”

After hearing from the public, Superintendent Milton Liverman told the board that at Wednesday’s City Council meeting the council transferred approximately $1.5 million for the system’s new school construction, but said the money could only be spent in accordance with the capital improvement plan.

That plan currently calls for one school, which would combine the students from Robertson and Southwestern Elementary Schools.

Board Member Enoch Copeland said that the City Council’s wishes should not be a factor in the School Board’s decision.

“We are to make decisions based on our constituents and not the wishes of City Council,” Copeland said. He then added that he felt the board needed to make an educated decision on the needs of those constituents, and recommended that the board rent a van and travel the bus routes for five South Suffolk elementary schools to get a greater understanding of student populations and current bus commute times.

Considering traffic and infrastructure concerns, Liverman suggested the board travel on a school bus to give an idea of what travel would be like for the elementary school students. The board agreed, and delayed further action on the capital improvement plan until members take the tour.

The tour is scheduled for June 29.