Reaction Positive To Change: Year-Round Revision A Relief for Parents
Academy Heights parents breathed sighs of relief after Thursday’s meeting with Superintendent Susan Purser, but questions regarding year-round school in Pinehurst still remain.
Parents learned that Purser has submitted a revised budget recommendation that would still close Academy Heights Elementary School but move its year-round program to Pinehurst Elementary School for grades kindergarten through second grade and to West Pine Elementary School for third through fifth grades.
Pinehurst and West End Elementary now are both traditional K-5 schools
Before making the information public, Purser met with parents at West Pine Elementary School Thursday to explain the recommendation.
“I have reviewed and reflected,” Purser said. “My staff has done a great deal of work on how we can serve all children of Moore County schools.”
Purser told parents that she was moved by their desire to find another alternative that would not only provide the year-round option, but also keep the option in Pinehurst, where the demand for the program originated years ago.
“Based on that, I felt it was necessary to alter my recommendation to the board,” she said.
Purser did not take questions from the audience, but she asked parents to write down questions or concerns on comment cards that she and her staff will either address on the system’s website or individually.
“Any time we talk about adjusting, there are also going to be logistical details that need to be worked out,” she said.
Purser said that both schools could accommodate all the students at Academy Heights if they choose to continue the year-round option. However, the system will have to use portable classroom units to expand enrollment capacity at each school with the addition of the program.
Pinehurst Elementary School already has trailers on site that are currently not being used as classrooms.
Purser said the system has two to three units that it can place at West Pine Elementary as well.
Purser told parents that she held the meeting in an effort to honor their requests for better communication regarding the issue.
“I don’t control some of the other factors out there, but my intention was to make sure you heard the recommendation from me,” she said.
Purser also said she is interested in forming a task force of parents of year-round students from both Pinehurst and Southern Pines to create a campaign that could work toward ex-panding the year-round option in Moore County.
“I do believe the year-round program is one of the county’s best-kept secrets,” she said.
After the meeting, Academy Heights fourth-grader Alex Monroe stood in the West Pine auditorium considering that she could be standing there next year as a fifth-grader.
She was unsure of how to react to the idea of Academy Heights closing, but she did say she liked the idea of being able to stay with her friends by going to West Pine.
If the year-round option does not remain in Pinehurst, Monroe would either go to Southern Pines for the year-round program there or go to Robbins Elementary School, where she wouldn’t know anyone.
“I’m hopeful now,” her mother, Lisa Monroe, said. “It’s a lot better than the first time we came [here for a meeting]. I don’t know why the board would vote no when [Purser] made it clear that it can be done.”
Dr. Sushma Patel, whose children attend Academy Heights, said she was glad Purser and her staff were receptive to parent suggestions and that Purser took the initiative to meet with parents before making the new recommendation public.
The new recommendation is based on an idea suggested by parents.
“It’s encouraging that they tried to make this happen for us,” she said. “For me, it was the right step in breaching a lot of anger in the initial presentation of the information and the way it was handled.”
Parents were angered when they learned of Purser’s initial budget proposal to close Academy Heights and consolidate the year-round program to Southern Pines via a Connect-Ed voice mail message March 14.
Like other parents, Patel said her main concern now centers on what will happen to Academy Heights teachers if the school closes.
“The teachers are a big part of the success,” she said. “We need to make sure they’re part of the plan.”
Purser told parents that teacher positions are uncertain across the county, not just at Academy Heights, as the system anticipates significant budget cuts.
She said she would not know about year-round staff positions at Pinehurst Elementary and West Pine Elementary until parents let her staff know where they will be going next year.
“That is data I will need in order to make determinations about staff,” Purser said. “Right now, I don’t know the implications about staff next year.”
After the meeting, Dr. Pete McKay had questions about potential implications of the new recommendation as the school system must consider enrollment capacities along with projected population growth in the Pinehurst area along with budget cuts.
West Pine Elementary opened this year as a brand new school, but it would require mobile units in order to accommodate both the traditional and year-round programs.
The school was built to ease overcrowding at Pine-hurst Elemen-tary and West End Elementary.
McKay also questioned the justification for closing the system’s highest performing school, which he described as the “shining star” of the county.
He said he is unsure if splitting up the successful collaboration among teachers, administrators and parents now at Academy Heights would help students continue to achieve at levels much higher than their peers at other schools in the system.
“That’s not brag, just fact based on past performance,” he said. “Why disassemble something that’s already winning?”
Academy Heights PTA president Carol Ray was very pleased with the meeting’s outcome and said the PTA board is ready to work with Purser to help make the transition happen.
She also expressed hopes that the equipment, including 12 to 14 Smart Boards and playground equipment, purchased for the school by the PTA, will travel with the students to the new locations.
“Then there won’t be that expense for the schools that we’re coming to,” Ray said.
Purser reminded parents that the Board of Education must approve the new recommendation before she and her staff can begin working on the transition.
“No action is going to be taken until the board makes a decision,” she said.
The Board of Education is scheduled to vote on both the new recommendation and Purser’s entire proposal for the 2011-2012 budget during a meeting at 7 p.m. Monday at Union Pines High School.
Contact Hannah Sharpe at hannah@thepilot.
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