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BOE discusses theme school, but decision to dissolve stands
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The Newton County Board of Education met Wednesday to discuss their decision to dissolve Clements Theme School earlier this month, and although all board members expressed hope that a theme school concept for middle school students would one day happen in the county, the decision to dissolve remained the same.

At the board’s May 18 meeting, more than 30 parents, teachers and students addressed the board, all asking that board members reconsider their decision to dissolve the school. Some parents also suggested trying a school-within-a-school concept since the reason for closing the school was largely due to a lack of enrollment.

"Though we heard from some parents we do not know the number of people who are actually interested in a school-within-a-school," said NCSS Superintendent Dr. Steve Whatley. "The first thing we need to determine is if, in actuality, we want to pilot a school-within-a-school and if Clements would be the best place for it."

Whatley said that they are currently in a holding pattern.

Board chairman Cathy Dobbs expressed frustration and disappointment that parents who expressed concern had not been contacted yet about the theme school.

"I don’t understand why that hasn’t been done," she said. "That has been a problem all along the way, on our part… I’m a little bit frustrated. I know there’s a lot going on but I hoped there would be at least some communication with these people who took the time to come and voice their concerns. It’s been eight days and I’m just really disappointed."

District 4 member Almond Turner expressed concerns that they had moved too fast when they originally elected to start a middle school theme school and he did not want to do it again.

"When we first went with the theme schools I had concerns about us moving as fast as we did. I think that may have been a contributing factor to some of the problems we’ve had," he said. "I just don’t want us to move hastily on this here and open up another school and have problems with it, and then we’d be right back in the same boat."

District 1 board member Johnny Smith agreed with Turner, saying he believed the board had failed by rushing into things the first time.

"We certainly don’t need to make that mistake again," he said.

Dobbs pointed out that the board had voted to expand Fairview Theme School to include two more grades, making the school kindergarten through fifth grade. District 2 board member Eddie Johnson asked if adding even more grades to Fairview would be possible and both Dobbs and Whatley spoke against the idea, saying that even with modular classrooms, adding more grades would put far too much strain on Fairview and would result in safety issues for students due to overcrowding.

"I feel like we try to do our very best but that we have not done that here," said Dobbs. "I just really feel like we could have done so much better and I am very disappointed."

Whatley reminded the board that in the five-year facilities plan, there is a plan for a elementary and middle school theme school to be housed where Eastside High School is currently, though that is several years down the road.

"I don’t like disappointing parents who have spent a lot of time and made a commitment but I am concerned about rushing into a school-within-a-school," he said.

Turner asked what kind of timeline the board was looking at to see if they could make the concept happen for the 2010-2011 school year.

"I think we’ve passed it for the fall," said Dobbs. "We may have had a little window but we have passed it."

Dobbs said the board would charge incoming superintendent Dr. Gary Mathews with immediately holding a stakeholders meeting after July 1 and with looking at options for a middle school theme school in the 2011-2012 school year.

"I am all for this concept but we rushed into it to begin with," said Dobbs. "Parents are going to have to be patient with us and we need to take our time. And we’ll have a new set of eyes with Dr. Mathews and we’ll come out with a better product. We’ll do better to wait at this point. With all my heart I am disappointed but I would hate for us to throw it together and it not be successful again. We’re not throwing it away; we’re just taking some time."

Smith said that he hoped with a year to look at the concept the board could come up with something better than just parental involvement for the next middle school theme school.

"That’s why I strongly feel that we should take our time and allow people to really do some research and come up with a better product that the entire community can be proud of," said Turner. "I feel sorry for the parents, I feel like we’re letting them down, but I feel like we owe it to them to give them something better."