Boone residents protest school closings

Ryan Quinn, Staff Writer

Some Boone County residents spoke out Monday evening against the officially proposed closing of Whitesville Elementary and the rumored conversion of Van Junior/Senior High into a kindergarten- through eighth-grade school.

But Boone public schools Superintendent Jeff Huffman wouldn’t confirm nor deny Monday that he’ll be proposing the Van Junior/Senior conversion and closure of Van Elementary to the Boone school board.

Lisa Lovejoy, who has taught math for nearly three decades at Van Junior/Senior, which she said operates as a single school, said Huffman spoke to the school’s principal Friday about his plan to recommend that the board turn the school into a kindergarten-eighth grade school by transferring out its ninth-12th graders to Scott High and transferring in elementary schoolers from Van Elementary.

She said this would allow the school system to close Van Elementary.

Huffman said he’s met with the school’s administration and he will meet with the full staff today.

“At that time I will share with them what my recommendation — what I believe my recommendation will be,” he told a reporter, declining to give further details on what that recommendation will be.

To close any school, the Boone school board first will have to hold public hearings, then vote for the closure, and then have that closure receive final approval from the state Board of Education.

The Boone board did — in a voice vote with no nays heard — approve Monday transferring, effective next school year, the sixth graders from Whitesville, Sherman and Ashford-Rumble elementary schools to Sherman Junior High. The move will convert the seventh- through eighth-grade school into a sixth- through eighth-grade middle school.

The foreboding sense at Monday’s meeting harkened back to Boone school board meetings last school year. Again there were more than 100 attendees at the standing-room-only board meeting, again there were discussions of tax revenues not meeting projections, again there was melancholy over the downturn of the coal industry, again there was talk of school consolidations and again there was discussion about the number of employees Boone is paying above what the state school aid funding formula will pay it for.

Multiple attendees wore blue Van shirts, and some held banners reading “#vankidsmatter.”

“Our high school is the highest-performing school in the county,” Lovejoy said.

Smarter Balanced standardized test scores for math and English language arts did show Van’s ninth, 10th and 11th graders generally outperformed students at the county’s other two public high schools, Scott High and Sherman High.
Lovejoy also said there’d be increased transportation times for students if Van’s pupils are bussed to Scott.

Van’s enrollment for all its grades, six through 12, was 224 last school year, compared to 416 at Sherman High and 682 at Scott High, which both only include grades nine through 12.

A proposal to close Van did come up at least at the end of last fiscal year — from Lisa Lovejoy’s own sister, Leticia Lovejoy, who discussed it in the face of the 11th hour, June 30, 2016, revelations that state Schools Superintendent Michael Martirano had ordered the Boone school board to make drastic employee pay and benefit cuts before the state Department of Education would approve the public school system’s budget.

“I’d rather close the doors on Van High School if that keeps more people from closing the doors on their homes and leaving Boone County,” Leticia Lovejoy said. She said she spoke then on behalf of Lisa, who even would support closing Van High as an alternative.

Boone’s school board, under threat of a takeover by the state school board, eventually followed through with Martirano’s ordered cuts, including a $3,800 to $4,000 salary cut per full-time professional employee, including teachers and school administrators.

Lisa Lovejoy said Monday was Leticia Lovejoy’s last day working for Boone’s school system — she’s gotten a new job and higher pay in Kanawha County’s school system.

Lisa Lovejoy said she’s now 100 percent behind keeping Van Senior High open. She said she wants the Boone school board to consider alternatives to transferring the ninth through 12th graders out, but said she couldn’t point to an alternative Monday night.

“We made those cuts anyway,” she said of the cost savings enacted last school year. “That’s the point: We made all those cuts and we’re here again.”

The school system has scheduled a hearing for the proposed Whitesville Elementary closure for 6 p.m. Nov. 15 at the school, located on W.Va. 3/Boone Street in the town of Whitesville. Whitesville’s mayor of 23 consecutive years, Fred Harless, spoke to the board Monday against the closing of his town’s school. He said the town of Whitesville is in no shape to take on another empty building, but said he was there looking out for other parents as he himself has a 10-, 7- and 5-year-old.

“I think we’re looking in the wrong direction when we go closing schools,” Harless said. “Once you close the school down, the natives will tear it up and that’s the end of it. How are we going to expand if we ever need to expand, and I feel like we will some day, maybe not in my lifetime, but I think we will expand.”

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