If a message came from the proposed consolidation meeting Thursday evening, April 6, it was that no decision has been made.
That was the message Escambia County School Superintendent John Knott repeated several times as he addressed the 45 or so people at the meeting.
The proposal calls for the closing of A.C. Moore Elementary School with the two pre-k classes and the third grade moving to Rachel Patterson Elementary School, which will become pre-k through third grade, and the fourth grade moving to Escambia County Middle School, which will become fourth grade through eighth grade.
Knott talked with ACM teachers last Tuesday, April 4, two days before the community-wide meeting. Also that day, ACM fourth-grade teachers visited ECMS, and Principal Debbie Bolden showed them the plans for accommodating the fourth-grade students at her school.
“I know there are all kinds of rumors out there,” Knott said. “First we need to explain … No decisions have been made about any consolidation.”
Knott said the Board of Education asked him to check into the possibility of consolidation, and he was doing that by gathering information, holding this community meeting and asking people to complete surveys.
Knott said this proposal had been discussed in 2004. In 2012, then-Superintendent Randall Little presented the idea. At that time, the BOE instructed Little to look at the facilities, and the recommendation was made to add a wing at RP, making the school K-4. The wing was added to the school system’s capital plan.
However, due a drop in enrollment at RP and ECMS, classrooms are available to accommodate the two grades currently at ACM.
Knott gave the following reasons for consolidation.
One is student safety. ACM classrooms all open to the outside with breezeways instead of hallways. When the school was built in 1954, no one worried about safety, Knott said.
With the age of the school, the building needs considerable renovation to continue operating as a school.
Consolidation would mean a better instructional transition for students. Knott said this would better provide for the educational needs of students.
“We’re not satisfied with academic scores right now,” he said. “Doing this move, we are removing a link in the chain.”
Knott said there is also a problem in the Atmore feeder pattern regarding bus routing. The goal is to try to eliminate multiple pick-ups. Students sometimes wait 30 minutes in the afternoon for a bus, and staff has to maintain duties during that time.
ACM Principal John Brantley addressed the group.
One of the main concerns about closing ACM is The Leader in Me program that began this school year at a considerable expense. It’s not just a one-year process, although the first year is critical in that it engages teachers. Brantley said The Leader in Me would continue at RP and get all teachers on board.
There is more concern about fourth-graders going to the middle school than there is about third-graders going to Rachel Patterson, and ECMS Principal Debbie Bolden addressed those fears.
“We were so happy to have the fourth grade teachers at the middle school today,” she said. “Some of you have heard nightmares about the middle school. I heard them too.
“Our students are well behaved and polite. Students know the boundaries and they know not to cross them.”
Bolden said the fourth-graders will have separate breaks and PE as the fifth grade does now. The fourth grade will be separate from the rest of the school.
ECMS shirt color is green, but Bolden asks that fourth-graders continue to wear their blue shirts the first year, so they will be easily identified on campus.
She showed a layout of school, indicating where fourth-graders would be.
When the floor was opened for comments, one of the ACM fourth-grade teachers said she was impressed with the visit at ECMS earlier that day.
“No children were talking and out of order,” she said. “Students were engaged. Teachers were teaching. I appreciate the chance to go over and see the school.”
A parent said her daughter attends middle school and is having a great year.
“She feels as safe as she has ever felt in school,” she said.
A question was raised concerning ACM personnel whose positions are already filled at both of the other schools.
Knott said it’s not clear right now how all that will work out. In the first year, personnel would be dispersed among schools. Some employees will be taken care of through attrition.
One person asked about what happens to the ACM building.
Knott said it may be used for some other community purposes or other programs, that the community and local government need to be involved in that decision.
“At this point, the focus is on whether we make the move,” he said.
Knott was asked what the deadline is for surveys and feedback. He replied April 21.
An A.C. Moore teacher said, “Our faculty is traumatized. We need to know as soon as possible what’s going to happen. We want to know where we’re going to be.”
Board members who attended were Chairman W.J. Grissett, David Nolin, Coleman Wallace and Mike Edwards. Assistant Superintendent Beth Drew, RP Interim Principal Sandra Reid, and Secondary Curriculum Supervisor Amy Cabaniss also attended.