The creation of Alleghany Highlands Public Schools was highlighted during the Virginia School Boards Association’s annual convention in Williamsburg.
More than 1,000 school board members, superintendents, and other school officials attended the convention from Nov. 16-18. In many years, representatives from each Virginia school division attend.
At the request of the VSBA, Alleghany Highlands Public Schools representatives gave a presentation on the July 1, 2022, merger of Alleghany County Public Schools and Covington City Public Schools. The merger created Alleghany Highlands Public Schools.
In their presentation titled “Putting the Unity Back in Community,” the AHPS representatives gave an overview of the history of school consolidation talks in the Alleghany Highlands. School Board Chairman Jacob Wright and Vice Chairman Jonathan Arritt were joined by AHPS’s superintendent-level staff leaders Kim Halterman and Melinda Snead-Johnson to discuss the pivotal steps that led to the merger.
“We understand that this process has been an involved discussion that included many differing perspectives in our community, and we are honored to be working together to help AHPS start its journey in a way that honors our past, present, and future,” said Kim Halterman and Melinda Snead-Johnson, division leaders.
It was the first consolidation of school divisions to be approved by the Commonwealth of Virginia since 2014, and only the third to occur since 1982. Regional school consolidation discussions in the Alleghany Highlands had been ongoing since the late 1960s.
The session was well attended by a cross section of school board members and administrators from throughout the state. Other localities may be in various stages of discussion on the possibility of consolidating their school divisions or simply may be curious about the work completed to form AHPS. School merger is one of the strategies that is weighed when localities struggle financially and the number of students is declining. Some school divisions may also be interested in the process as concepts used to discuss consolidation may also apply to opening new schools, redistricting schools, and similar topics.
“In this time of change in our community, we wish to reiterate that it is not part of the AHPS consolidation plan to close any elementary schools,” said Halterman and Snead-Johnson.
The consolidation talks between Alleghany County and Covington moved in a positive direction after the local governments and the school boards approved a special committee in 2019. Known as the Joint School Services Committee, the appointed representatives from the county and city were tasked with studying school consolidation.
Wright, who was then a member of the Alleghany County School Board, and Arritt, who was a member of the Covington City School Board, both served on the Joint School Services Committee.
The study led to the development of a consolidation plan that was approved by the Alleghany County Board of Supervisors and Covington City Council in September 2020. In the same month, the two school boards also adopted resolutions in favor of consolidating the schools. This showed the state that the merger proposal was supported by two elected and two appointed public bodies.
After reviewing the plan and seeing the level of support from both localities, the Virginia Board of Education approved the formation of Alleghany Highlands Public Schools. The school division, jointly funded by Alleghany County and Covington, was established on July 1.
The AHPS representative also viewed their appearance before the VSBA as an opportunity to showcase the Alleghany Highlands. They gave an overview of the region and highlighted its appeal to tourists and persons seeking to relocate to a scenic area.
The Virginian Review has been serving Covington, Clifton Forge, Alleghany County and Bath County since 1914.