School board takes field trip

Published 11:09 pm Monday, June 29, 2009

Four hours and one peacock sighting later, the Suffolk Public School Board is one step closer to deciding whether to pursue consolidation of Robertson and Southwestern Elementary Schools.

At a School Board retreat two weeks ago, Board Member Enoch Copeland recommended that the board travel the bus routes for five South Suffolk elementary schools to get a greater understanding of student populations and current bus commute times.

At 7:30 Monday morning, the board was taking that trip on a school bus. For four hours, board members, along with Superintendent Milton Liverman and additional Suffolk Public Schools staff members, traveled through South Suffolk.

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For some on the board, the trip was a reinforcement of what they already knew.

“Being a native of the area, I was pretty familiar with the area,” said Vice-Chairman William Whitley. “A couple of the roads I have never been on, but I’ve been here a long time. I think a lot of us were pretty familiar with it, but it was interesting. And a lot of wide open spaces out there.”

Board member Phyllis Byrum said she also was familiar with the back roads of Suffolk, but she was glad to have the opportunity to experience it on the school bus.

“I thought it was very beneficial,” Byrum said. “It’s good to review things. It’s always good to look at things closely. I think it would do a lot of city officials a lot of good if they would come out and do these type of things, because you can see what is going on in the community.”

The trip included no members of the city council, which has opposed building separate schools for the two rural areas in favor of consolidating the existing schools in a new facility to which students would be bused every day.

Some School Board members were more familiar with the busing situation than others.

“Overall, I didn’t come away with anything I didn’t know before,” board member Michael Debranski said. “I was familiar with what we’re doing and where we’re drawing from.”

But Debranski did say that the unexpected sight of peacocks along the rural road during the trip helped make the day.

“The peacocks were nice, and they were fun,” he joked. “And I enjoyed the scenery.”

For others on the board, the trip was provided a welcomed education.

“Since I’m from the north end of town, I will say I definitely went on a lot of roads I have never ever been on,” said Diane Foster, who represents the Sleepy Hole Borrough. “I think it did kind of hit home how spread out the Southside is. It also hit home with me what a contrast it is to the North, because it’s so spread out, and how rural of an area it is.”

The board made specific stops at Robertson and Southwestern Elementary Schools to see the condition of both buildings.

Board member Thelma Hinton said those stops struck her the most.

“I was really kind of disappointed,” Hinton said. “It’s not fair. It is not fair. Every child is entitled to an education — a good education — in a good environment, in a good facility. We can do better, and we will do better. This trip did not persuade my decision. My decision was made two months ago. I felt the frustration. Something needs to be done.”

The capital improvements plan for the school system will again be a featured item for the School Board’s meeting on July 9.