Anniston BOE votes to close Anniston Middle School
by Paige Rentz
prentz@annistonstar.com
May 08, 2013 | 9740 views |  0 comments | 20 20 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Vanessa Bowen teaches her social studies class at Anniston Middle School Tuesday afternoon. (Anniston Star photo by Trent Penny)
Vanessa Bowen teaches her social studies class at Anniston Middle School Tuesday afternoon. (Anniston Star photo by Trent Penny)
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With little fanfare or discussion, the Anniston Board of Education voted Tuesday to close the Anniston Middle School.

The plan as recommended by Superintendent Joan Frazier includes closing the middle school, converting Cobb Elementary School into a junior high school for seventh- and eighth- graders and dispersing the sixth- graders among the city’s other elementary schools. Under the plan, the central office would move to a building the school system already owns at 11th Street and Woodstock Avenue on the campus of Anniston High School. The middle school property would be turned over to the Anniston City Council and marketed for economic development.

“I think this board has done what the community wants,” said William Hutchings, who represents Ward 2 on the board.

The conversion of Cobb and potential improvements there could be good for the community in West Anniston, he said. “Why should you build up one side of town and kill another side of town?” he said, adding that the middle school’s location “was a mistake in the beginning.”

The school board voted in September 1982 to invest its first dollars in the north Anniston site and the school opened in August 1987.

The most recent round of school closure discussions began in April 2011, when district officials met in a work session to discuss declining enrollment. The board members began meeting with residents at “community conversations” in February 2012 to discuss system reorganization. Debate about the issue continued through the summer and into the fall, past a self-imposed Sept. 6 deadline for making a decision. At its last meeting in October 2011, the previous board failed to vote on the issue, thereby passing the decision on to the current board.

But at an April 27 work session, board members made quick work of the reorganization issue, coming to a consensus on closing the middle school in less than two hours.

“All five of us walked out of that work session with our hearts lifted and a smile on our face,” said Board President Donna Ross.

Last year’s discussions included an option similar to the one the board approved Tuesday, but that also included closing at least one elementary school due to declining enrollments.

“It is not as aggressive as I would have initially recommended, but I don’t know that’s the point,” Superintendent Joan Frazier said Monday.

In dealing with an issue as complex as this one has been, she said, those involved “have to get to a general consensus where everybody gives a little and gets a little...and I think that’s what we did.”

Frazier said she had no timeline thus far on the implementation of the plan, but did note that the system will remain the same for the 2013-14 school year.

Among several things that have to fall in line is the plan’s approval by the U.S. Department of Justice, something Frazier said could have a dramatic effect on the plan’s implementation.

Ross said the board members have been working to build relationships and understanding with one another, something that is very important when tackling big decisions.

“If you don’t have a relationship with every single member on the board — a relationship of trust — then it’s really hard to make hard decisions,” she said. “As we focus on building our relationships and trusting each other, I think that it’ll be easier to make difficult decisions.”

She said the willingness to work together and function with unity makes a difference. Their work on the system reorganization, she said, has left them with “a feeling of relief and a feeling that yes, this new vision of ‘One City, One Vision’ is possible and we can be a part of it.”

In other business, the board:

- Approved summer hours for the Anniston City Schools central office, which will be open five days a week. Central office staff can choose a four-day work week or five days with shortened hours.

- Authorized the implementation of the Advancement via Individual Determination program at Anniston High School. AVID is a student-based program that follows students from freshman year and encourages graduating in four years and planning for post-secondary education, Frazier said.

- Tabled renewal of Jimmie Thompson III’s contract as chief school financial officer, pending changes to his contract.

- Discussed meeting dates with the Anniston City Council.

- Discussed revising supplements paid to employees for extracurricular activities.

- Discussed updating the Board of Education’s policy manual.

Staff writer Paige Rentz: 256-235-3564. On Twitter @PRentz_Star.
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