Monday, March 3, 2008

Closing Pocahontas High School - the March 3rd Public Hearing

I went to a school board meeting tonight. The Tazewell County School Board had a public hearing scheduled on the closure of Pocahontas High School.

It seems like the idea of closing PHS has been around forever. The school is a combined middle and high school with les then 200 students. I think it recently became the smallest high school in the state.

When I first heard about the move to close it my ut reaction was something like, "Well, I guess the time has finally come." Then I learned that the state test scores on the school were higher than Tazewell High School, that PHS was fully accredited this year when Tazewell high wasn't, and that the actual financial savings from closing the school was probably pretty slim. I say probably because there hasn't been any kind of a cost benefit paper put out by anyone.

I spoke at the hearing. Anyone who wanted to speak got three minutes. I think I was 15th in line. The hearing started at 7:30 and I got to speak at 8:15. I told the board that I thought it would be easy to get confused in the framework of a hearing like this. Everyone seems to think it's the job of affected citizens to convince the board not to close the school. The law says the board can close the school. But I think that the obligation of leadership means there needs to be some sort of openness and a clear policy that explains what justifies closing a school.

I suggested three tests. One would be fiscal. How much would it save us to close this or that school? Once we have those numbers, there needs to be some process for letting tax payers say whether the cost of keeping the school open is worth it.

Then there's an academic test. Is there something the kids aren't getting, educationally? What is it? Develop a list and look for ways to solve that problem - short of school closure. Closing the school ought to be the last resort.

Finally there's a facilities test. Is the building beyond hope?

The problem with closing PHS is that it passes muster on all three tests. So why close it?

One reason suggested at the hearing was that Graham High School has seen a decline in enrollment. If most of the student body at PHS was incorporated into Graham, it would remain a double A school. But if not, Graham would become a single A school - and could have to start playing other people in football.

I left long before the meeting was over. I guess I'll read tomorrow in the papers what happened...

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