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March 9, 2017

Consolidated middle school plan the wrong choice

The school board Monday night endorsed a new plan for a 950-student, consolidated middle school in Warrenton.
By Michael Rainger
Broad Run

On David Jeck’s arrival as school superintendent, I attended the first one-day “strategic retreat” at Kelly’s Ford with the school board and administrators. As a former KPMG International government / business specialist, I expected high energy, diverse opinions, problem resolution and open discussion. However, it turned out to be a very long staff meeting, where the new superintendent was “educated” in the short-term operational plans already in place.

I listened as the ONLY member of the public to attend three consecutive annual retreats. I was not allowed to speak or comment. This used to be the norm for most school board meetings including those related to building maintenance. Former Superintendent Jonathan Lewis involved our community. I attended the strategic planning sessions with 70 others when he arrived in Fauquier. Why not do something like that now, for ALL our public schools? It could be completed by this summer.

Yes, a middle school modernization review committee existed and studied the matter. Was it conducted from the correct perspective? Did the right people participate? Did it have the right agenda?

Why have some schools been allowed to deteriorate so badly over the past 10 years? Who is responsible? Were competitive bids sought for each school’s renovations? Why has there been no public outcry to this situation? Where are the principals and parents with their opinions and concerns? Does Fauquier apathy prevail?

> POLL: Do you support the new plan for a 950-student, consolidated middle school in Warrenton at an estimated cost of $43.3 million?

Public education of students in this county should be the best in the country. It is not. Super-sizing two middle schools into one is simply the wrong approach. It destroys the effective culture built over decades of success.

For more than 80 years the concept of smaller schools for younger students has been in place. Fauquier County has 11 elementary, five middle, three high and two special schools. This places younger students closer to home, reduces transportation costs (time on buses), separates old from young and breeds a “safe neighborhood” mentality.

With four middle schools, the larger new complex would have the advantage over the other three smaller schools for academics, sports, arts and science because of the newer facilities and size over the other three, breeding unfair competition and demoralized future student populations at Cedar Lee, Marshall, and Auburn. (Wake up Brookside!)

Traffic (think buses) may double at Taylor. What does the Town of Warrenton think about this? Sorry, town officials have not been asked, just like the renovation at Fauquier High School, during which permits were delayed because of zero contact from the school system. The town, county and schools need to work together, not apart.

A daughter went through a similar process when the same super-sized middle school approach was implemented in Hillsborough County, Fla. At least it was to handle population growth, a problem we DO NOT have in Fauquier, if school projections are correct. Selective larger middle schools in one school district were a disaster (20 years ago).

Yes, Taylor and Warrenton middle schools need capital funds for improvements. So do the 19 other school complexes. Yes, even the newer ones have needs, where small investments would reap major rewards. We need a strategic 10- to 15-year capital projects plan combined with the intellectual needs of the students and future economy.

The school board Monday voted, 5-0, in favor of a super-sized, expensive middle school. The board should have voted, 5-0, against its.

Fauquier parents, students and teachers deserve better. We need smarter, effective, sustainable solutions and options. Speak up! Stay tuned!
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Jim Griffin · March 9, 2017 at 11:37 am
Agreed with everything here save for the inference that we are not blessed by the presence of Superintendent David Jeck.

I concur: Smaller more local facilities are best, doubly so when they pursue first-rate excellence.

Commended to your attention: The local Excellence in Education committee is a fine forum for public involvement, but you are correct that the more citizens have access to school leaders the better. Further, I know they agree and hope it happens.

Attended this week the E-i-E awards for teachers where they handed a teacher from each school a $500 check along with recognition for achieving excellence. Deeds, not just words.

Bravo to you for writing and getting involved. Schools are not a burden. They are an opportunity to put forth our very best efforts in ways that directly and demonstrably improve our community.
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