For the second time in a month, the Carroll County School Board listened to the concerns of Cana residents about the possible move of St. Paul School’s sixth and seventh grade classes to the newly renamed Carroll County Middle School in Hillsville. Thirty residents attended the public hearing on Nov. 13, and 12 spoke, citing student safety, long bus rides and preserving community identity as reasons to their opposition to such a move.
Phillip McCraw, the first speaker during the hearing, said all seven of his grandchildren attended schools in Stokes and Surry counties, rather than ride buses up and down Fancy Gap Mountain. McCraw said the dangers from “fog, falling boulders, crosswinds and speeding trucks” made I-77 unsafe for children.
“We’re not asking for much, just keep our children down there (Cana) and educate them,” he said.
Ronald McCraw noted that the distance younger children would have to travel not only affected the students, but parents as well. “If you get a call from school about a sick child, it’s easier to go to St. Paul School than an hour trip to Hillsville,” he said.
“Every bus this evening was 15 minutes late because of a wreck on the mountain,” continued McCraw. “That’s not uncommon. Parents have a ninth or 10th grader 15 minutes late is one thing, having a sixth grader, who has already been on the bus an hour and a half 15 minutes late is another.”
McCraw also questioned whether Carroll County would financially help parents who choose to send their children to North Carolina schools.
“People from Cana have sent their children to North Carolina school, which are much closer, but have to pay high out-of-state tuition. If we’re going to move all our grades up here (Hillsville), will we have a choice, will the county help us,” McCraw asked?
Phil McCraw, who represents the Cana area on the Carroll County Board of Supervisors, was next up. He noted, however, that he was speaking as citizen, and not a supervisor.
“Both of my kids went to St. Paul School and I was the PTO president for three years. The school is a big part of our community, always has been and I hope always will be,” said McCraw. “I’m very concerned. I have a lot of customers and people who just stop by to talk asking me about things. I have literally been wrapped up with this St. Paul thing far more than the board I sit on.”
“I’ll be honest, I’m upset,” continued McCraw. “You don’t need this much time. If you’ve been listening you don’t need any more information. I’d say 99 percent of the people in Cana are against what you’re trying to do.”
McCraw said if anyone in Cana wanted to send their sixth and seventh graders to Carroll County Middle School, then the county could provide transportation, but “do not force the majority of people to do something they don’t want to do.”
“Do what’s best for the people, not what’s best for your egos or a school system has been too liberal with money, like when you ride by the high school and look at that glass façade that isn’t worth two cents as far as education. Ask yourself, do I want to make the same type decision or do I want to make a decision that will make people happy?”
April Delacruz told the board that she would like to see honors and foreign language classes at St. Paul, as well as a full-time civics teacher and a variety of clubs.
“I would like St. Paul to have the same opportunity and education offered at Carroll County Intermediate School,” said Delacruz. “Our children would be well served by keeping the sixth and seventh grade classes at St. Paul.”
Delacruz addressed the socialization, questioning why clubs, or even sports, couldn’t be open to students at both St. Paul and Carroll County Intermediate School, and the meetings and practices alternated between the two locations.
Barry Towe recounted an incident when he was a student that illustrated the travel issue.
“I remember riding Gary Easter’s bus. It was a fine morning, but then it began to snow. Before we got to I-77 it got so bad the bus couldn’t get up the hill on a side road, and the boys had to get out and help push the bus up the hill,” said Towe.
Eddie Vaughan, a grandparent of students at St. Paul, also addressed the travel issue on I-77. “Yesterday morning the fog was so thick I couldn’t see two feet in front of me. I’ve been down that mountain in the fog many times and the tractor-trailers don’t slow down.”
In addition, Vaughan said a recent visit to the intermediate school left him questioning if there was enough cafeteria and gym space for additional students.
Patricia Sebens, a former school board member, not only suggested leaving the sixth and seventh graders at St. Paul, but “bringing back down the mountain.” Sebens noted that would reduce the transition for Cana students to one, instead of two.
She added that when the school board renovated St. Paul School, it was meant to serve sixth, seventh and eighth grade students.
Josh Secrest, a Cana native, said when he and his wife were deciding where to send their children to school, she wanted them to attend schools in Mount Airy. However, after a tour of the facilities at St. Paul, she changed her mind. However, now they’re rethinking that decision.
Secrest also pointed out that having sixth graders on busses with high school students exposes them to things they may not be ready for.
“I can protect my son at home, limiting what he watches on TV or what music he listens to. But I rode the bus with older students, and I know I learned some things third graders didn’t need to know.”
Mark Beck addressed the travel, noting that the school board had recently fought a Virginia High School League decision to place Carroll County High School in a district with Franklin County, citing travel time as the reason.
“Everybody was concerned about the travel, well, we’re just as concerned about the travel,” said Beck.
Steve Moore wanted more specifics, asking, “What is my return to sending my child up the mountain as opposed to sending my kids five miles down the road to Mount Airy?”
School Board Chairman Brian Spencer said the board would get into specifics during the December meeting, but wanted to get as much input from Cana residents as it could to start with.
“That’s why we wanted two meetings, so if someone who wanted to speak couldn’t attend the first one, they would have another opportunity ,” said Spencer, who added that the board petitioning the state that Carroll County school buses be allowed to travel U.S. 52 instead of I-77.