COVINGTON, Va. (VR) – The Alleghany Highlands School Board recognized winter athletes/activities with commendations and awards and heard many public comments regarding the school consolidation, during what John Littleton called “the eleventh hour,” during Monday evening’s crowded and very lengthy meeting.
After deleting the playground equipment update from administrative reports and recommendations on the meeting agenda, the board recognized the award winners as they entered the room and stepped to the podium when their names were called. The standing-room-only crowd spilled over into the hallway, so the award winners present entered the room as their names were called. Some were absent due to various sports and other after-school activities. The students were recognized for various sports, leadership and art.
Several students, teachers, parents and concerned citizens approached the podium during public comments. Students Kenny Sprouse and Ian Kern raised their concerns over the selection of the school song, “Our Director.” Sprouse suggested that a more up-to-date school song be selected by the students as the school mascot colors were. Kerns suggested they use fight songs from Alleghany High and Covington High, even if they alternate during the year, rather than using a “closed school’s fight song.”
Before hearing comments on the school consolidation, Chairman Jacob Wright gave some background on “how the consolidation came to be.”
Lorrie Saville began the comments from Clifton Middle School teachers. She questioned why the experts (CMS teachers) were not asked anything. “Why are you all not coming into our buildings to speak to us?” Saville wanted to know. During board member comments, Tammy Scruggs-Duncan responded that she had been in the school many times.
Another teacher, Katie Hinkle, provided the board with a two-page statement with attachments on images from Praesadium training and Covington Middle School’s classroom assignments. Hinkle said she is in “support of consolidation when it is executed correctly, which I do not feel like is being done.” Her statement outlined the age of the Covington building, the lack of adequate space and bathroom facilities, the cost to maintain the building and some safety concerns.
Jay Woodson encouraged the board to “change their decision.” He believes the decision to use the Covington building as the middle school is political. Several board members agreed, that while part of the decision was political, there were other factors, including economics.
“Everybody take a breath,” said Scruggs-Duncan during her board member comments. “I will have no part in reneging on the deal; I feel it’s unethical,” she added. Scruggs-Duncan said she believes that “We’re all here for the same reason, to provide an education for the children.”
Susan Goings chided the board for not having adequate space to accommodate the number of students receiving commendations nor the size of the crowd. She said she believes the problem in the consolidation decisions was a lack of communication.
The board members seemed to agree that there had been no dishonest practices or secrecy behind their consolidation plans and that they took students’ safety and Americans with Disabilities Act compliance concerns very seriously. They also praised and showed appreciation to the teachers during this National Teacher’s Week.
“We arrived at a compromise that was a long time in developing,” said Vice Chairman Jonathan Arritt of the consolidation that will go into effect at the beginning of the 2023-24 school year. Gerald Franson added that among other things, “There’s a lot of prayer that went into this.”
Wright closed the comments by saying, “I couldn’t be more proud of our board. I know in my heart we are all in this together.”
In addition to the above, the board had an action-packed agenda. They approved the consent agenda, the minutes of the April 6 called meeting and the April 17 regular meeting, reviewed bills and heard several informational items and administrative reports and recommendations. They adjourned into closed session nearly three hours into their regular meeting.