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September 26, 2020

Rowan-Salisbury Schools moves forward with Henderson closure study

By Carl Blankenship
carl.blankenship@salisburypost.com

SALISBURY — The Rowan-Salisbury Schools Board of Education on Monday followed a recommendation from district administration to begin a formal closure study of Henderson Independent School.

The move is a continuation of talks surrounding closure of Henderson along with Faith and Enochville elementary schools, which began before the COVID-19 pandemic. Monday’s vote to move forward with the study was opposed only by board member Jean Kennedy, who has been a vocal opponent to closing schools.

Associate Superintendent of Resources Anthony Vann brought the recommendation to the board and said Henderson, a school built in 1920, serves only 37 students. The school serves a fluctuating number of middle and high school students who are mostly placed there for serious conduct infractions or are referred to the school.

Administration pointed to some students in the independent program doing well with virtual-only learning while others do better in class or in blended models. The district does not have immediate plans to place alternative students in a dedicated new facility if Henderson is closed. Instead, it would explore placing them in online and blended models based out of a handful of schools in the district.

Associate Superintendent of Advancement April Kuhn said the district wants to create a committee made up of high school principals and district leaders to finalize plans for the program and keep an administrator. Alexis Cowan is the current principal at Henderson.

Kuhn said the district would try to personalize the program to the needs of students, whether that is a blended model or students coming to classes late in the afternoon, which schools would typically call “night school.”

Kennedy was critical about the prospect of placing alternative students back in the school settings they were deliberately removed from.

Board member Dean Hunter said when he visited the school more than a year ago there were buckets on the floor to catch water from leaks in the roof. It was embarrassing and unfair for the students, Hunter said.

Board member Josh Wagner said he thinks the district’s students deserve better and sees them equally — whether they are in the alternative program or not.

Superintendent Lynn Moody noted there is no capital funding to build a new facility for the alternative program if the district wanted to. At this point, the district has to choose between pursuing alternate plan or leaving the students in Henderson with the buckets.

Board Chair Kevin Jones said the district could find an alternate facility for the program if needed later.

Vann is expected to have a closure study ready for the board by its Oct. 12 meeting. The next step after the closure study would be to schedule a public hearing on its closure and make a final closure decision.

The board on Monday discussed Faith and Enochville closures as well. Members decided to explore scheduling public hearings at its Sept. 28 meeting. The schools have both been up for closure before, but the boards backed off after community pushback.

The studies outline issues such as whether the closures are feasible, if there are nearby schools with space to accommodate students, positions for faculty and staff at those schools and so on. In the case of both schools, the studies concluded they would not have a negative outcome on the education of the students who attend Faith and Enochville, and employees would be assigned elsewhere.

This time, enrollment at the schools is continuing to dwindle. With the district’s new all-virtual options, which are expected to be permanent, Moody said the numbers in schools will never return to what they were. Enochville has fewer than 300 students.

The administration has fielded an estimate that closing a school would save the district $500,000 annually, conservatively.

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