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Why Corridor G parents are upset

I usually see news from a detached perspective. But the debate over school redistricting along Corridor G affects me directly.

My kids attend a school that could be affected, and my family could have to make decisions based on the outcome.

So I've tried to stay out of it both professionally and personally — but keep feeling drawn in.

Kanawha County is trying to alleviate overcrowding at John Adams Middle, which had the highest Westest reading and math scores in the state last year, the highest student population of any middle school  in Kanawha County with 740 students, and seven aging portable classrooms to house those bright young brains.

Statistics at schooldigger.com show a consistent student population at John Adams dating back 20 years.

With 749 kids in 1994, 798 in both 1995 and 1996, 779 in 1997, 747 in 2004, 753 in 2005, 771 in 2006 and 754 in 2006, there have been  more crowded years.

Nevertheless, my neighbors want to be a part of the school. Many parents of Alum Creek and Ruthlawn Elementary children — like my family — signed up for 30-year mortgages based largely on the school district.

Not everyone is sympathetic.

"That area was never 'supposed' to be in the GW attendance area, but the South Hills are whining because their schools are so overcrowded," one woman wrote in an online newspaper article comment.

Another wrote, "How snobby of these people! I'm appalled!"

And on a TV website: "OMG, JUST GO TO ANOTHER SCHOOL."

Ouch.

That's what parents in my neck of the woods have been hearing for three decades.

Here's the history:

For 40 years or so, families in the area were served by Washington District High, which was consolidated into George Washington High in the mid-1960s. The old high school became  Washington Junior High School.

By the late 1970s, the junior high was deteriorating, leaky, and, apparently, often ignored. In 1978, my boss, Nanya Friend, wrote about the first visit by the county superintendent and school board president to the school in six years.

"They think we're in Lincoln County," one teacher was quoted as saying bitterly.

Their visit was prompted by a letter from eighth-grader Vicki Dugan, who wrote, "We would like for you to come out to visit Washington Junior High School. We would like to see if you can walk on water. We do, every time it rains."

Yep. Snobby.

In 1984, the junior high was targeted for closure. Residents felt the decision was sudden. They believed the school board was ignoring their pleas that the area was growing and the community would be split.

Parents won a year's reprieve.

The next year, 1985, they lost.

"We don't understand why our school is the one chosen to be closed," Mary Ann Quintrell wrote to the Gazette in 1985.

"All other communities have a junior high or a senior high or both. Our high school was taken several years ago, and we have begun to cope with that, but moving our junior high seems to be more than we can accept."

Then-superintendent Ed Lakey countered that the county would save $364,000 that year by closing the school and splitting its 160 students between John Adams and Spring Hill junior highs.

He contended students would be better off at John Adams, too.

"Children would receive educational advantages if we close Washington Junior. There would be a wider course selection for students, and a possibility, that, say, an advanced course could be offered several times a day," Lakey said in a 1985 Gazette article.

By that October, Washington Junior High was declared surplus property. An appraiser determined it had no value.

Only a little more than a decade passed before a new version of the school board was considering blocking students from John Adams.

In 1997 — just 12 years after shutting down the community's junior high — the board temporarily decided to keep Alum Creek and Ruthlawn students from attending John Adams because of overcrowding concerns.

Eventually, the school board backed down, but with misgivings.

"I think that there has been a longtime problem with Ruthlawn and Alum Creek," then-board member Priscilla Haden said in 1997.

Now parents are again being told they're part of an overcrowding problem.

Parents are now making the same arguments the school system made in 1985 — that their children are better off with the educational advantages offered in the John Adams district.

Current board members have been telling parents to be patient, that nothing is settled yet.

As my neighbors learned long ago, being patient is the path to losing your school.

Do board members have long memories? Parents do.

Brad McElhinny is the Daily Mail's managing editor. Contact him at 304-348-1703, bradmc@dailymail.com or @BradMcElhinny on Twitter.  


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