All of Fayette could get behind 3 achieving, efficient high schools

By Ed McCall

The failing facilities of Fayette County’s school system have been documented, but root cause for those glaring inadequacies has not.

There’s no mention of monies spent maintaining a top-heavy central office bureaucracy that mandates expensive, unnecessary teacher training that robs teachers and administrators county-wide of their morale and academic freedom to teach children using their own methods or to implement in their schools programs of choice.

Ignored is a politicized school board divided by inflammatory rhetoric and disregard for any area other than the Plateau. No attention is given the revolving door of superintendents who failed to maintain facilities and lacked vision and courage to develop a county educational facilities plan. From 1942-1986, Fayette had four superintendents. In the past 30 years there have been 17!

Combine those failing facilities with what the public perceives as poor fiscal management and an overall lack of transparency with communities throughout the county and you have the perfect recipe for failed bonds, a stagnant school system and divided citizenry.

I’m a proponent of providing all children with the best educational opportunities. I am not an opponent of consolidation when a centrally located school offers a better education while allowing districts to maximize shrinking educational dollars and where the geography of our mountain home and its highways make centralizing educational offerings beneficial and safe for all students. Successful consolidation balances bus rides, highways, curriculum, staffing and facilities against efficiency, school climate and transportation costs.

Fayette County (sixth largest) has 664 mountainous square miles. Mt. Hope, Oak Hill, Fayetteville and Hico are located within 12 miles of a proposed site for a mega-school along a four-lane highway. Children of the Plateau deserve it and would be well-served there. Bringing Valley’s students there from the far western end across Gauley Mountain is as ill-advised as is bringing Meadow Bridge’s students from the far eastern end of the county off Backus and Patterson mountains.

Time lost on buses is prohibitive and the results far from efficient as the school they were to leave was to remain open under the recently proposed CEFP and Superintendent George’s plan as a K-8 middle school that would require the same upkeep, utilities, similar staffing and the same bus routes. Where are the savings?

Raleigh County has 605 square miles and four consolidated high schools, one in each area of the county where there is no easy highway access to the county’s flagship school, Woodrow Wilson. Smart! Efficient! With community support in each area!

A state of the art high school on the Plateau and two smaller schools on the farthest ends of the county is the smart, fair and most efficient way to provide the best educational opportunities. Such efficient use of taxpayer dollars is a plan citizens could unite behind and support, and would allow Collins Middle back into its own building (OHHS) in its community and allow a re-configuring of middle/elementary schools throughout the Plateau and Hico area into safe, healthy buildings.

If I, any board member or Plateau resident lived within reasonable distance of such a school, we would want our children attending that school. If we lived 48 miles away, as students on Patterson Mountain, we wouldn’t be so keen on our children making that trek twice daily.

In a recent state BOE meeting, a teacher and administrator from Salt Rock Elementary, a small, rural Cabell County school in a not so wealthy area, presented “Learning School Models.” They told BOE members it was successful “Because we are a small school, we have tremendous community support. Our teachers are vested. They live in the community. The professional development necessary to implement this came from the teachers in our school which gave us tremendous buy-in.”

Sounds like Meadow Bridge where 13 of the 16 member faculty are vested in the community and where just recently community members replaced the roof on the band room and fieldhouse, put new tile in the gym foyer, repaired the tattered stage curtain, shampooed all the entrance mats to the school, filled up trucks and trailers with abandoned desks, tables, equipment and materials from closed schools to take back to MBHS, painted the exterior to the music building, and just a few years ago, replaced the ceiling tiles in classrooms, painted, cleaned the school top to bottom, constructed baseball and softball fields and a track?

The Plateau communities would be equally supportive of a mega-school on Rt. 19 serving their children. If the county/state funded, staffed and maintained Meadow Bridge and Valley, at the far ends of the county, they would soon find themselves with three achieving and efficient high schools an entire county could be proud of and support. That is one fewer high school than Raleigh County.

The children of Fayette County deserve from leadership inclusive cooperation putting the needs of all children first. The divisive tactics of this most recent effort at consolidation in such a geographically challenged county remind us Dr. King’s words still ring true, “Injustice, anywhere, is a threat to justice everywhere.”

— Ed McCall is a retired

educator and former principal at

Meadow Bridge High School.