School mergers and closures are a hot topic here in Gadsden County. And rightly so. A lot of folks will be affected in some form or fashion whether they are students, teachers, parents or even whole communities.
Superintendent Roger Milton’s reconfiguration plan makes fiscal sense. Several county schools are deterioriting and under-utilized. They are outdated and their infrastructure needs are astronomical. Those same schools and others around the county are below capacity, some at 55 to 65 percent, but still require full staffing.
It’s a financial drain on the school district’s coffers trying to keep these schools operational.
On the flip side, communities embrace and support their schools. They are part of a community’s identity and no one likes seeing one shut down.
They are also convenient. Closing and moving schools will cause a burden on many. Students will have to travel farther, some 30 miles or so. Parents will have to do likewise to visit their child’s school.
During my school days, Gadsden County had six high schools. Then it dropped to four following full integration, then to two following consolidation. It’s hindsight now, but the county probably should have built one high school when Havana/Quincy and Chattahoochee/Greensboro were combined as East and West Gadsden High Schools. But that was too much change at the time.
Rural counties in the state of Georgia and across the Panhandle of Florida consolidated years ago. Most of those counties, excluding metro areas, have one high school.
Gadsden is a little different because it has six substantial communities. But still, our student population has declined and part of that is due to our schools not offering what larger schools can offer.
Bigger schools can provide a more diverse curriculum from their athletic programs to extra-curricular activities, to advanced courses for college-bound students.
I don’t have kids going to any of these schools so I’m not affected like parents with school-age kids. But I think the superintendent is on the right track. As one school official told me last week, he really doesn’t have much choice except to consolidate. Hopefully, the school board can compromise to a point where all involved will feel that although they are losing their community schools, they are gaining better schools with more and better learning opportunities for their children.
The bottom line: Do we want convenience or do we want our students to get a quality education?
Post Script: Congratulations to the West Gadsden Panthers and their state basketball championship season. It’s been several years since a championship was brought back to our county and we are all very proud of the players and coaches and their dominating performance. It’s fitting that the school has won this championship during what is probably its last year in existence. GO PANTHERS!