The discussion around the Moore County Schools redistricting project has not been among our finer moments of upbuilding in the Sandhills. Honest differences and disagreements are to be expected, but particularly stunning has been the way some parents have virtually demonized the people, the process and some of the schools.
But no school has stood in the crosshairs of opposition like Southern Middle School in Aberdeen. Some parents whose homes might get moved into the school’s attendance zone have approached this as they might respond to an oncoming calamity. The school has been called low performing, its students less academically adept than crosstown rival West Pine Middle. It has been compared by some to be an “inner city” school, which has obvious racial overtones.
By way of transparency: My son currently attends West Pine Middle. Our home would be moved into the Southern Middle zone under the second draft of the redistricting plan.
There is no question that Southern Middle may be our most challenged school. It possesses a “D” rating by the state as it relates to academic performance. That score is based 80 percent on end-of-grade test scores and just 20 percent on how much students actually improved from the prior year. Even the state acknowledges this is unfair and is working on adjusting this formula.
Southern Middle is also 63 percent minority. It has a high percentage of economically disadvantaged students.
But we also know the school is turning out spectacular students, and not just a few. Its athletic programs are competitive in its conference. Its students regularly are offered opportunities to immerse themselves in coding; robotics; speech and debate; advanced science.
“While providing support for our high-achieving students,” said Southern Middle Principal Marcy Cooper, “we also provide intervention for our students who are struggling with grade-level content.”
But to see real evidence of Southern’s strength, look to where its kids go to high school: Pinecrest. In the last several years, that high school, which draws students from Southern and West Pine Middle, has seen a surge in success.
Academically, its end-of-course tests have risen almost 20 points in the last four years. Its academic school performance has risen 10 points and a full letter grade, and its graduation rate exceeds the state average of 86.3 percent. Total college credits earned has gone from 253 four years ago to 824 this past year.
Environmentally, major reportable crimes fell last year almost 50 percent to 25 incidents. Suspension dropped from 217 to 176.
Socially, participation is up in everything from ROTC to orchestra, from robotics to debate and in social clubs. There is increased community service for food collections, roadside trash pickup, mentoring in elementary schools. There’s even a campus beautification team.
Athletically, Pinecrest teams have won multiple conference titles, regional honors and statewide acclaim the last four years. Its girls’ soccer team, No. 2 in the nation, lost its first ever bid for a state championship last weekend. Its football team last fall made it to the statewide semifinals for the first time in history.
I say all these things because, through and through, it is not only the West Pine kids thriving. Kids from both schools are excelling at the right time.
Listen to the kids. During a school board meeting recently, Pinecrest senior Keegan Foyles said that students from both middle schools flourish in challenging high school courses: “There is an even mix of both schools in standard, honors and AP classes. Nobody keeps count of who is from what school in AP Calculus.”
Pinecrest student body president Anna Hagedorn: “I have learned that colleges do not care where your child goes to middle school or even high school. What they care about is what your child makes of their own experiences.”
Shortly after Thanksgiving last year, the school district convened a group of 22 students — from freshmen to seniors — who had attended either West Pine or Southern Middle. Twelve attended West Pine, nine had attended Southern, and one student had gone to both schools.
Here are just some of the students’ conclusions:
* “Southern is portrayed unfairly (all emphasis theirs) as the ‘poor urban school’ and its students are stereotyped unfairly as being inferior academically and socially. West Pine is portrayed unfairly as ‘the rich white school’ and its students are stereotyped unfairly as being ‘preppy,’ exclusive and culturally insensitive.”
n* “Seniors who attended Southern said students from West Pine create standards that afford all students with greater opportunities. Seniors who attended West Pine believe students from Southern contribute passion, acceptance and honesty to the student culture and thus enable all students to be more well-rounded.”
* “Some of the earliest intervention on behalf of Patriot unity occurs when Pinecrest High School football coaching staff gathers with all Southern and West Pine players during and after their annual end-of-season rivalry game … (and) establish the expectation that the players must shed their identities as Dragons and Wildcats and begin to identify and unify as Patriots.”
Perhaps the parents can learn from their kids. Division and discord are easy to sow. That marked Pinecrest in its early years, half a century ago. So we can keep tearing down Southern Middle and live with what that reaps.
Or we can adopt a more affirming path that builds success and nurtures community. Opportunity exists wherever there are those willing to seize it.
The kids certainly know that.
Contact editor John Nagy at (910) 693-2507 or firstname.lastname@example.org.