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Ruthlawn, Alum Creek parents pack school board meeting

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- They'll support a bond. They'll raise private funds. They'll even sell their homes and move if they must.

Parents from Ruthlawn and Alum Creek elementary schools told school board members they'd go to great lengths to keep their children in South Hills middle and high schools and out of those in South Charleston.

"I'm not sending my children to South Charleston. I will move. I will sell my home at a loss and I will move to put my children in a home squarely within the (South Hills) district," said Chanin Wolfingbargar Krivonyak, mother of three children at Ruthlawn Elementary School.

Krivonyak was one of about 70 people at Thursday's meeting. Ten parents of children at Ruthlawn and Alum Creek elementary schools shared concerns with the board.

John Adams Middle School has 740 students, requiring close to a half dozen portables on its campus to meet that demand. The school feeds into the packed George Washington High School, where a policy was enacted last school year to prevent any more students from transferring in.

Overbrook Elementary School, which feeds into John Adams, is also very crowded. The county has already presented a plan to send some of those students to other South Hills schools. 

Parents have been upset since word got out that the school system was considering sending Ruthlawn and Alum Creek students to South Charleston Middle School.

Several told board members the main reason they selected their homes was so their children could attend those schools. Some attended those schools themselves.

Many said they saw a difference in academics and atmosphere between John Adams and South Charleston Middle.

"After we reviewed the curriculum at both John Adams and GW compared to South Charleston schools, it's astonishing to see the difference in education that's offered," said Renee Fugate, a parent of a Ruthlawn student.

"How do you not see that the education is ... dramatically different between the two schools? My child being forced to go to South Charleston, he will not receive the same education as he would at GW," she said.

Lou Ann Cyrus, chairwoman of the Alum Creek Local School Improvement Council, said she didn't want to put down any South Charleston schools.

But Alum Creek is a Title I school, meaning it has a higher concentration of low-income students and she said those students do better when they are exposed to "middle class values."

"As the studies show, the lower socioeconomic children have a chance to come up," Cyrus told the board. "They tend to come up to meet the middle class standards and they develop these values that we all want our kids to have so they can grow and prosper."

Cyrus elaborated on her comments after the meeting.

"What happens is you have an effect where the lower socioeconomic students are actually brought up by being in that environment," she said. "They develop middle class values, and work ethic, and that enriches them, as opposed to going to schools where they're in predominantly a lower socioeconomic level."  

Board of Education President Pete Thaw said he was offended by some of Cyrus' comments.

"Can you believe your education is enriched by going to school with rich kids? I never knew that," Thaw said.

Board member Bill Raglin said he hoped parents didn't intend to denigrate other schools or give the impression "poor people or less advantaged people are more inclined not to be able to get a good education."

Thaw and Raglin said both Ruthlawn and Alum Creek are "dual enrollment" schools, meaning parents can choose to send their children to John Adams or South Charleston.

When the attendance zones were first established, more parents chose to send their children to South Charleston, Superintendent Ron Duerring said. It was the intent of the school system at the time to eventually send all of the students from those two schools to South Charleston Middle, but Duerring said that never happened.

Wherever they go Duerring said students would be in good hands. He said he understands parents' passion on the issue, but he thinks children will still be able to participate in extracurricular activities with the same people -- a concern brought up several times by parents. 

He said the board would have to decide whether to pursue a bond to fund expansions at John Adams, as some parents suggested. Thaw didn't think a bond would pass.

Krivonyak, who used to live in South Charleston but moved to be in the John Adams attendance zone, suggested creating a bond to help middle schools across the county. But Thaw doubted Sissonville taxpayers would vote to spend money at John Adams.

Even if the board were able to get money from somewhere -- the School Building Authority, bonds, private funds -- Raglin said there are other schools that need more attention than John Adams.

Almost every parent that spoke said they wanted to be part of the solution and not the problem. But if the end deal sends Ruthlawn and Alum Creek students to South Charleston, Krivonyak said she thinks up to 75 percent of the affected families will move inside John Adams' attendance zone.

Families who cannot afford to buy a home in South Hills will be "left behind," Krivonyak said, adding they are the students who need the education offered at John Adams and George Washington the most.

Even if the school system pledged to spend more money on the education in South Charleston, Krivonyak believes her neighbors won't change their minds.

Thaw isn't convinced everyone will move, and he thinks the only solution they'll accept is to enlarge John Adams.

Any decision is months away, Thaw and Raglin said. Duerring said the concerns did not fall on deaf ears. He and board members said they understand there are overcrowding issues, and they promised to keep everyone apprised of any progress made by the county.





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