Community pleads to keep school open

On Sunday members of the Francisco community presented the Stokes County School Board with one main request: “Keep our school open.”

“Closing this school will be very traumatic for our kids,” said resident Bobby Shelton. “I don’t think there is enough time between now and the next school year to have a conversation about closing the school.”

Steven Jessup said more effort needed to be spent on finding out what had gone wrong at the school.

“When they are all leaving, there is something wrong,” he said. “That has never come up . That is never talked about. What do we need to do to fix Francisco?

“In this part of the county we like to fix things, we will repair it and work on it. It is a last resort that we will throw something away,” he added. “Let’s not throw this school away.”

Rev. Ricky Rogers asked similar questions, questioning why more effort had not been spent on figuring out why students were leaving the school and offering to get on his knees to beg if it would help to keep the school open.

“Give us one more year and let us see what we can do,” he said.

Nick Watson said the declining enrollment at Francisco was indicative of trends across the county, and noted that the decline may be related to a failure to maintain the buildings.

“Right now it is about Francisco, but what school is next,” he said. “If you are failing to maintain this building then those children are being forgotten.

Jane Tucker suggested that a change in school leadership may help change the enrollment trend citing how a change in principals in 1995 had led to a 40 student increase and noting that the population of the school had been in a steady decline since the current principal had been in charge.

Tucker Willard agreed, arguing that the school board had played a role in the declining numbers at the school.

“It is mismanagement in Danbury that has caused the drop off in numbers,” he said. “It is not Francisco. You are causing a problem and then solving it by taking it out on a small constituency.”

Joshua Francis complained about the communication between school system and the community.

“We presented our ideas and have not heard back from anybody,” he said. “Everyone needs to remember that they work for the taxpayer and the voter.”

Skip Roughton noted that the fate of Francisco had been sealed when the county decided to renovate Nancy Reynolds instead of building a consolidated school between that community and Francisco.

“So here we are seven years later dealing with the unintended consequences of past decisions, still kicking the can down the road,” he said, noting that responsibility also lay with the county commissioners for not properly funding school needs. “The Board of County Commissioners had ignored your calls for additional resources and assistance, and if you look across the street at the school you have abandoned and neglected for the past several years you will see why this community is losing its faith in its elected leaders.

“Years of neglect and bad decisions have taken their toll, but the reversal can start with your vote tomorrow,” he added. “When parents can trust in the future of their school, they will come back to that school.”

Sylvia Burton told the board that closing the school would have wide ranging impacts in the community.

“We need this,” she said. “This area could die if this school closes. It is as simple as that. If you take that away then you can kiss this area goodbye.”

Melvin George accused the board of discriminating against the Francisco area children.

“You made sure the numbers went down so you can say to the tax payer that it is not worth keeping open,” he said. “Our school hasn’t had nothing come to it.”

Brad Collins threatened that closing the school would have an impact in future elections.

“You ask how many parents are here, but I would be more concerned with how many voters are here,” he said. “When it comes time to vote again, I would want to be on the crew that saved Francisco.”

Several parents of future children warned that they would consider sending their children to charter schools or home schooling instead of enrolling in the Stokes County School System if the local school were closed.

“My son does not go to Francisco yet, but he won’t if you vote to close it,” said Willard. “If Francisco is not here, he will go to a charter school, or be home schooled, or maybe we will work to bring in a charter school.”

Public comments continued Monday night with several speakers asking follow up questions and making final pleas for the school.

Horace Stimson said closing the school could have unintended consequences.

“When a vacuum is created it gets filled in some way,” he warned.

Maxie Watson, a parent hoping to eventually send her infant to Francisco, warned that the closing of Francisco may just be the first of other schools to close in the county.

“If you look at the numbers in all of the schools, they are decreasing,” she said. “Kids are leaving the schools and it is not just Francisco.”

Nicholas Elmes may be reached at 336-591-8191 or on Twitter @NicholasElmes.

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