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Petition circulates over K-8 plan for Grand Ridge

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Jackson County School Board

More than 200 people have signed a petition they hope will lead to the reversal of the Jackson County School Board’s decision to close Sneads Elementary School and build a new K-8 school on the existing Grand Ridge School campus.

The board had originally planned to put the K-8 school in another location that sits near the Sneads city limits, having already purchased a tract of land as the potential site, but later, because of various issues, elected to re-furbish the Grand Ridge campus that currently serves as a middle school for students in grades 5-8.

Town Manager Lee Garner is among those who say the change was made too quietly, with inadequate notice to the community that wants to weigh in on the issue.

He’s not the only one: A coalition has been formed to fight the plan, via the petition and, it was expected, voicing the group’s concerns at a Jackson County School Board meeting this Thursday at 4:30 p.m. That meeting had not been held as of the deadline for this edition, but organizers of the petition were urging the public to attend and weigh in.

The group, Citizens for Protecting SES (Sneads Elementary School), has been circulating the petition online and has hired a PR firm, RB Oppenheim, to help them spread the word.

The group has a website, citizens4ses.com, where the petition can be seen and signed.

“As a resident of Jackson County, I have signed the petition calling for the JCSB to halt its plans to close Sneads Elementary School (SES) and build a K-8 school at Grand Ridge Middle School (GRMS),” the petition begins.

“I am deeply concerned and question the logic and motivations behind this decision: What is the logic behind disbanding an ‘A’ school that has consistently provided a great education and environment for the students?,” it continues.

“Why is it a good plan to utilize some of the existing structures of GRMS, but not a good plan to do the same with the SES?

Why are the SES buildings not adequate for an elementary school, but are for a Pre-K that the JCSB says will be housed there?

Why was Sneads not properly informed of the plans to build at the GRMS site?

Increased transparency is critical, and I hope JCSB will consider working with both communities – Sneads and Grand Ridge – to create an outcome that will benefit both towns.

The citizens of Sneads want a win-win outcome instead of a win-lose outcome. If building a K-8 school is not the best option for both towns, we should work toward improving SES and GRMS where they currently stand. Thank you for your time, service, and consideration,” the petition concludes.

Jackson County School Superintendent Steve Benton has pointed out that the decision was reached before he came into office, but also spoke on some of the facts that could be considered to support the decision.

He noted the savings that would be realized if the school board can use existing infrastructure at Grand Ridge, and potentially some of its structures, rather than building all-new on a raw piece of property, and that some drainage issues that could drive up costs even more were discovered after the formerly-proposed K-8 site had been purchased.

As for the effect that closing a school might have on the general well-being of the community, Benton pointed out that, in previous actions to consolidate years ago, Grand Ridge had lost its high school population. It could be argued, he pointed out, that closing Grand Ridge middle school and building a K-8 at the border of Sneads, would have dealt another blow to that community.

As for the potential effects of this action on students given the fact that SES has so consistently been graded a “A” school by the state, Benton pointed out that all or many of the teachers of SES that helped earn those “A”s would still have the option of moving on to the new K-8 just some six miles away. He also pointed out that the bus ride would be a short one for students that live in Sneads.

He also addressed fears that have been expressed about putting kindergartners and other of the youngest students on the same campus as middle-schoolers. Benton said the configuration of the new school is planned so that the middle school and the elementary population will be essentially separated by way of buildings that would sit between the classroom spaces, and that even the cafeteria would have the two populations eating with distance between each other within the structure.

But those opposed don’t think those factors add up to justify the plan in light of other factors that argue against it.

Garner has written a letter to the editor on this matter. It appears in this edition.

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