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Tyler Thrasher with his mom, Amy, at the Even Start Family Center in Moulton. Amy is considering a private school for her son rather than putting him through the Lawrence County public system.
Daily photo by Gary Cosby Jr.
Tyler Thrasher with his mom, Amy, at the Even Start Family Center in Moulton. Amy is considering a private school for her son rather than putting him through the Lawrence County public system.

Consolidation: the pros and cons
School identity key for youths, teacher says

By Kristen Bishop
kbishop@decaturdaily.com · 340-2443

MOULTON — Laurie Montgomery, an English teacher at Lawrence County High School for 24 years, and all of her immediate family graduated from the same school where she now teaches.

She said it would break her heart to see the school’s closure if the Board of Education moves forward with a consolidation plan.

The school board agreed Dec. 11 to pursue a realignment plan for the county’s seven high schools, but it has yet to decide on a particular path to consolidation.

Superintendent Dexter Rutherford and board members have touted consolidation as the only way to improve educational opportunities and increase course offerings at the schools.

Montgomery said she fears consolidation would deprive the county’s communities, which are centered around high school rivalries and athletics, of their identities and traditions that span many generations.

In a survey of 502 Lawrence County high school students conducted by graduate student Miranda Ball, the loss of community and school identity was one of the main fears of consolidation.

“Our children will be ‘Red Devils’ or ‘Hornets’ or ‘Golden Bears’ for nine years (K-8) and then be expected to suddenly, overnight, become ‘something else’ for the final four years of their education,” wrote Montgomery in a five-page letter to the Board of Education mailed Jan. 23.

“...Without strong ties to their schools, their teachers and their classmates, student performance will decline and the dropout rate will increase.”

Montgomery said she was reluctant to be outspoken against consolidation, but felt strongly enough to take a stand.

Proponents of consolidation have said combining some of the high schools will decrease the number of teachers needed for basic courses, allowing many to teach elective or advanced placement courses.

Superintendent Dexter Rutherford said he believes the additional courses will give Lawrence County students that extra boost to succeed in college.

Montgomery said the education students receive in Lawrence County is adequate for college success.

“We have many students who go on to be doctors,” she said. “We are obviously educating the ones who want to be educated.”

She agreed that students from other school systems often have a wider variety of classes that teach many of the subjects covered at the university level, but said that’s no reason to get rid of community schools.

Some recent graduates of Lawrence County high schools who are now enrolled in college have said they are having to study harder than their peers to pass their classes.

“If we have students that are graduating and are actually having to work in college, that’s not a problem,” said Montgomery. “If we make everything easy for them and make it seem like life is easy, then that’s a disservice to them right there.”

Distance learning labs

Jackie Tipper, an advocate for Alabama Arise, a lobbying group for the poor, said students wanting more than basic courses should take advantage of the county’s distance learning labs.

The labs at East Lawrence, Hubbard and the Center of Technology allow students to take advanced courses taught from a remote location in real time via computers, microphones and speakers.

District 3 board member Beth Vinson has said distance learning is not for everyone.

“Some students learn better in an actual classroom environment,” she said during the Jan. 16 board meeting.

Rutherford said he hopes to have a distance learning lab at every school by the end of this school year.

School rivalries

Kenny Gillespie, the father of three sons who have either graduated from or are attending Speake High School, said the school sports rivalries hold the communities together.

Gillespie, who is also a Speake alum, made it clear during a December board meeting that he would only support a consolidation plan in the best interest of his community.

“I’m speaking for Speake,” he said. “That’s all I care about.”

Gillespie has three sons. Two have graduated from Speake and one is in the ninth grade.

Gillespie said his son would suffer athletically if Speake students are forced to attend another high school.

“My son’s been at Speake all his life. If you send him into a whole different program in the middle of high school where the coaches know nothing about him, he’ll lose his senior experience of being a stand-out player,” said Gillespie.

Montgomery said education should always take priority over sports, but agreed that athletic programs often encourage students to stay in school.

“I know education is extremely important, but we also know that many of our kids only show up because they’re involved in athletics,” she said. “They keep their grades up to at least 70 so that they can stay on the team.”

Gillespie submitted a petition opposing consolidation to the school board Jan. 17. He was unable to provide an exact number of signatures, but said it was more than a thousand.

An online petition for those who oppose consolidation is available at www.petition
online.com/NOCON/petition .html.

It states, “We respectfully disagree with the movement toward the consolidation of the Lawrence County School District, in any form. We believe that it is not in the best interests of our students or our community, and that it will have a negative impact on, among other things, academic achievement, extracurricular opportunities, drop-out rates, disciplinary issues, and the sense of community enjoyed in a small school setting.”

As of Saturday at 8 p.m., 12 people had added their names to the petition.

Forum

The Lawrence County Board of Education will host a countywide forum to discuss realigning the county’s seven high schools Monday at A.W. Todd Coliseum in Moulton at 6 p.m.

The forum will follow the regularly scheduled board meeting at 5.

Kristen Bishop

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