Damiani: Old Suffolk needs a school

Published 8:58 pm Saturday, December 15, 2012

Suffolk’s “elder statesman,” Andy Damiani, the 91-year-old also known as Mr. Downtown, has appealed for a new school to serve students living in old Suffolk.

At the School Board’s regular meeting this month, Damiani said he’s been concerned “for the last four or five years” about the issue of children from the roughly two-square-mile area of old Suffolk attending 11 schools in other parts of the city.

In former times, Suffolk had six schools and “they all walked to school,” he said. “Now we don’t have any. We have Booker T. (Washington Elementary), but it might be in (former) Nansemond County.”

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According to Damiani’s calculations, students in the old part of the city use 44 bus routes to attend 11 “outside” schools.

Damiani, whom board members and those in the public gallery greeted with respectful attention – board Chairman Michael Debranski introducing him as the city’s “elder statesman” – handed out photocopies of a handwritten list of schools and their bus routes.

“We take them out of the neighborhood and sprinkle them around,” he said. “It’s kind of bad. This has been going on for years and years.”

“I don’t have any children – never had – but I’m still interested with what happens to the children,” he added. “We’re just a small little community. There ought to be a way where we could shorten that list (of bus routes) a little way.”

The solution, he said, is to build an elementary school in old Suffolk. Damiani argued that sending children to schools outside their neighborhood lessens the sense of community among citizens.

Under the current scenario, parents who live close to each other become active in different schools rather than a shared school, he said.

“I like all you guys, I really do,” he told board members. “You all ought to take a look at this; I’m surprised the parents haven’t said anything. Five elementary schools in a small community is unheard of — you have got them going to five schools.”

“You are not the only one that’s brought this to our attention,” Debranski replied. “I was wondering if you would like that (a new elementary school in old Suffolk) in our capital program?”

Damiani replied in the affirmative.

In an interview after the meeting, Damiani said he will keep drawing attention to the issue. “Two ladies were shopping in Farm Fresh,” he said. “One said, ‘See you Tuesday at the PTA (parent-teacher association) meeting.’ The other said, ‘It’s Thursday.’

“They were talking about two different schools, and they live in the same community.”