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 john@thepilot.com.

(7) comments

Let’s see if the Pilot approves my comment.

What I find interesting about this and all of the commentary regarding sms and the redistricting is the lack of accountability with regards to where this narrative originated. Why isn’t anyone holding Dr. Grimesey accountable for the things he has said about the schools? The most inflammatory comments came from the first area 3 meeting at southern middle school which coincidentally is the ONLY meeting that does not have a video attached to it on MCS website.
Here is a quote from Dr. Grimesey referring to a conversation he had with students at Pinecrest. He spoke with students from WPM and SMS.
“The Southern Middle School kids pegged it right from the start, the West Pine children create an atmosphere where everybody’s got high expectations. Everyone believes in us and we see that and we see what we can go after here.”
I personally have a huge issue with this because I think it’s insulting to imply that the teachers at southern middle school aren’t teaching their students that they can achieve greatness and I challenged Dr. Grimesey about this statement at our WPE PTO meeting. Yes, I am one of those horrible people in Pinehurst who stood up for Marcy Cooper and the staff at SMS. It was at that same PTO meeting that Dr. Grimesey compared sms scores to wpm; something he has only done at this particular meeting. Parents in pinehurst asked Grimesey what he is currently doing to help SMS. What plan is in place right now to help the school achieve academic success? What additional services have been provided to that staff at SMS? These are the questions that were asked at the WPE PTO meeting. I know, shocking that pinehurst parents have a genuine concern for others. We didn’t sit in a room and condemn SMS. I recorded the entire thing and yet the message that the boe, The Pilot and community members want to perpetuate is this false narrative that we think our kids are too good to attend this school or any school in MC.
Let’s look at another quote Grimesey made at the first area 3 meeting -
“Were you guys unified in 9th grade? Nope and so we talked about that. What did it take? What were your perceptions of each other? And they were as teenagers can be, they were pretty honest. Where did you get those perceptions? They heard it from others.”

So again I ask, who is pushing the narrative? Why is one thing being said to one side of the county and a different story being said to another side? Why is it acceptable for a board of education member to say things like ‘don’t worry, the school will be less brown by the time your kids get there”? Or why is it acceptable for a boe member who represents southern pines to send his kids to west pine middle?
There is no doubt in mind that this town has issues but the community needs to really pay attention to who is pushing the narrative.
It should be absolutely unacceptable to insult any municipality and yet everyone seems comfortable with insulting Pinehurst,
even the Pilot.

Chris Smithson

I really feel bad for these parents so against any changes. They are very insecure about their parenting skills and have little confidence in their children. I do my best to empathize with people like that.

Aren’t you the same guy whose kid hangs out in CCNC? Part of the Kiwanis club with Dr. Grimesey? Yet you are all over social media and The Pilot constantly insulting Pinehurst residents which has become acceptable to everyone apparently.

Chris Smithson

Say hi to Lisa. Being from here, we’ve always had friends all over. It’s just in the last 15-20 years that Pinehurts parents have increasingly fretted over their snowflakes matriculating with the lowlifes from Southern Pines and Aberdeen.

Kent Misegades

Why not allow open enrollment? Let parents choose the school via a lottery. Or universal vouchers. More choice always yields greater competition and lower costs. A rising tide raises all ships. Parents always have the right to seek options other than government schools.

Conrad Meyer

Won't be long before Jim provides an all to lengthy rebuttal to this opinion.

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
PLEASE TURN OFF YOUR CAPS LOCK.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Comments that violate any of the rules above are subject to removal by staff.

Thank you for Reading!

Please purchase a subscription to continue reading. Subscribe today and support local community journalism.

Digital Only Subscriptions

Thank you for visiting ThePilot.com and supporting award-winning community journalism. Not everyone wants to have a newspaper delivered to their home, but they want to keep up with the latest news in Moore County. Click here to gain digital-only access and support local journalism.

Starting at
$1.07 for 1 day

Connect Print Subscription to Digital Access

Thank you for visiting ThePilot.com. Your Pilot subscription entitles you to unlimited digital access. Simply log in. From the home page, click on Subscription Services. Then click on "Pilot All Access Print Subscribers." It should show your phone number . If so, click "Sign Up." After a few seconds, it will take you back to the home page. Log out, then log back in. You're set! For any problems, call our customer service number at 910-693-2487 or 693-2488.

Free access for current print subscribers