Two speakers Monday night questioned the Fayette County Board of Education’s plans to close Fayetteville Middle School and reconfigure two other schools after this school year.

And they had different reasons.

Under the proposal, Fayetteville Elementary School would be transformed from a K-5 school to a K-6, and Fayetteville High would be reconfigured to a 7-12 facility from its current 9-12.

At a brief hearing for FES in the Lia Vaglio Auditorium at Fayetteville High School, FES kindergarten teacher Christina Mitchell said she doubted the wisdom of moving kindergarten and first-grade students from their current building on High Street about 100 yards uphill to Fayetteville Middle. While the closure documents call for the use of three FMS buildings to be discontinued, the kindergarten and first-grade students will be housed in a fourth building on the hill.

Mitchell said she has a variety of concerns with moving the young students. Among those are what she feels will be decreased access to both computers and the Fayetteville Public Library, as well as safety issues for children on an asphalt playground without a fence. In addition, she mentioned worries about the meal program and other areas.

Most of all, Mitchell said, she and her fellow teachers (four teachers at those two grade levels with 126 years of experience) will miss “the connection with (their) students’ older brothers and sisters.”

“We have invested our teaching years to make a difference in the lives of our students,” she added.

Wayne Yonkelowitz, who has taught science and other subjects at FMS for 23 years, told the board he, too, is skeptical with the reasoning for the plan.

“There is no sound academic reason for what’s taking place,” he said.

Speaking specifically for the sixth-grade class, Yonkelowitz said he fears transferring those students to a self-contained elementary school classroom will cause them to fall behind in social studies and science, in particular, because those disciplines are stressed less on the elementary level than other areas such as mathematics. Science will be limited, he said, to “thirty minutes on Friday afternoon because they’ve got to get it in.” He also questioned how the plan would offer increased academic programs for students.

Yonkelowitz further said the closure/reconfiguration drive is fueled by individuals in certain corners whose main keep goal is to preserve athletic rivalries. “Their whole concern is to save this high school.”

A third person signed up to speak but yielded her time because she said Mitchell’s comments more or less mirrored hers.

A hearing for Fayetteville High was slated last night, and, barring a change due to weather, the Fayetteville Middle hearing will be staged tonight at 6 p.m. at FHS.

The board will meet at 6 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 15 at the central office to take action on the closure/reconfiguration. An alternate night for that meeting is Friday, Dec. 16.

Members of the public who wish to address the board and superintendent at the hearings must register prior to the start of each hearing. Any individual who feels he will be affected by the proposed action and wishes to submit written statements and testimony can do so by the close of each hearing.

Closure documents are available for viewing at each of the county’s public schools, as well as the central office in Fayetteville.

Among the reasons cited for the closure/reconfiguration are the county’s falling student enrollment (a 22.4 percent decline — 1,921 students — in the last decade), financial constraints facing the school system, the need to increase the utilization and operating capacity of FHS (currently at 56.51 percent but expected to rise to 92.66 percent with the move) and a projected improvement in educational offerings for students.

The system would also save money, according to the closure document. After a first-year projected net outlay of about $321,000 to make the building transformations, the yearly savings afterward would be roughly $106,000.

No additional buses or personnel would be necessary in the reconfigured schools. Four additional classrooms will have to be built at the high school, two of those through remodeling.

— E-mail: skeenan@fayettetribune.com

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