Communities ‘disappointed’ by board decision

Published 10:59 pm Friday, July 10, 2009

They may be miles away from each other, but the residents of the Whaleyville and Holland communities stand side by side in their reaction to the Suffolk Public School Board’s decision to consolidate Robertson and Southwestern Elementary Schools.

“I’m a little disappointed,” said Joan Harville, Robertson PTA president. “I wish they would have left Robertson in the Whaleyville area. I just hope that they make a good decision on where they place the school for all the kids.”

“I was very disappointed in the outcome,” said Lorita Mayo, former principal at Southwestern Elementary School and Holland resident. “We really want a school in our community. That’s been our goal the whole time — to keep the school in the community.”

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Thursday night, the Suffolk School Board voted to build a new elementary school that will serve the student bodies of the two rural schools.

It was the end of a debate that has been stirring in both communities for more than a decade. To residents, taking away their elementary school is the latest in a line of acts from city leadership alienating the communities.

“It will be many years before we ever get any kind of recognition down here,” said Frank Jackson, president of the Whaleyville Historical Society. “We don’t have anything in the Whaleyville area that the downtown people want.”

Jackson said Robertson Elementary School was the only site to see in Whaleyville.

“We don’t have any fast food restaurants. We don’t even have a gas station,” Jackson said. “If my yard needs to get cut, I’ve either got to go downtown Suffolk or to Gates, N.C., to get a gallon of gas to put in my lawn mower to cut the grass.”

The same can be said in Holland, according to residents.

“We tend to feel like stepchildren when the city makes their decision on what to do with this part of Suffolk,” said Mae Burke, who has grown up in Holland. “I don’t think people really understand how important a neighborhood school is. It just takes a lot out when you don’t have a school here.”

Mayo echoed Burke’s remarks, saying that the schools play an integral role in creating a sense of community for residents.

“Holland has always been a very close-knit community, and the school has always been something to bring that together,” Mayo said. “It just takes the community spirit away from Holland and from Whaleyville as well. As taxpaying citizens, I feel that we should get something for our tax dollars as well. We do not feel appreciated as citizens.”

While the residents may be united for now, that sense of harmony may be challenged in the weeks to come. The board will begin looking for locations for the new school immediately, but both communities are clamoring for a space as close to home as possible.

“Ever since there has been a Whaleyville, there has been a school here,” Jackson said. “Now, all of the sudden, they are going to take the school away. They need to remember Whaleyville, and at least put the school close enough for the kids who are coming in down from the Carolina line.”

“We don’t want to be adversaries. We don’t want to be combative with the village of Whaleyville, but we want it here,” Burke said. “I think we’re going to gear up for another fight to have the school placed in Holland. And if it’s not in Holland at least as close to Holland as it could be.”