Francisco School supporters meet to express concerns
Supporters speak out at school board meeting
by Jessica Johnson Interim editor
Emotions ran high on August 15, as a group of at least 65 people gathered at the Francisco Community Building to discuss their concerns about Francisco Elementary School and lower enrollment numbers, concerns which have led many of those who spoke up at the meeting to believe the lower numbers could lead to closing the school.
Those who gathered in the room included concerned parents, students, grandparents, teachers, school employees, former teachers and staff members, and a former member of the Stokes County School Board.
With 72 students enrolled at the school, many of those at the meeting expressed worry that the low Francisco enrollment numbers could give Stokes County Schools officials an excuse to justify closing the school. Another concern mentioned were the amount of students who transferred from the school, including some who transferred to other schools within the Stokes County system. In addition, the Pre-K program at Francisco was eliminated, which meant a loss of six students.
During an interview held the day after the Francisco meeting, Stokes County Board of Education Chairman Michael Rogers said even though 14 students transferred out of Francisco this year, eight students transferred into the school, which he said leaves a total of only 6 students lost. “We are not getting to the point where transferring in or out is going to be a determining factor on the longevity of the school,” Rogers said.
Many of those in the room said they attended Francisco Elementary School, they sent their children to the school, and they now have grandchildren enrolled. Several of those speaking were brought to tears as they described their concerns to the crowd.
Leading much of the meeting was Sandra Hooker, former school employee and a parent of former Francisco students. “We’ve got to stop this,” Hooker said. “If people don’t fight for it they are going to close the doors to the school. We’re here to say, ‘you are not going to forget about Francisco,’” which was met with loud applause from the crowd.
Hooker and several others encouraged those in the room to organize themselves with facts and prepare to attend Monday’s 6 p.m. school board meeting in Danbury, where they plan to express their concerns to the board.
“Even if you can’t speak, go in numbers to show them we are here,” Hooker said. “We need parents, grandparents, teachers, and anyone who wants to speak up to be at the meeting.”
Stokes County Schools’ Administrative Assistant Ann Robertson, relaying information on behalf of the superintendent, said there has been no mention of closing Francisco schools at any board meeting, and there were no plans to do so.
School Board Chairman Michael Rogers said a date would be set for an open forum town hall-type meeting in September, where those with concerns would be able to speak to the school board and they can “address issues to find out what is best in the community.”
“Right now we have no intention on closing the school. We are trying to find any viable alternative to make sure the long-term stability is there. We understand the concern — it’s our concern also. We want to do what is best for those students. We want to try to be proactive to find every avenue possible to ensure the long-term care of the kids and the facility [at Francisco Elementary School]…it is not our intention our desire to close any schools in Stokes County. We feel our schools are an integral part of the community in which they serve.”
Overall, Rogers said it is important to keep lines of communication open: “We encourage open communication lines between the people of Stokes County and the school board. We are elected by the people and we serve for their benefit. We don’t have personal agendas.”
The personnel director with Stokes County Schools, Melissa Jessup, was also in attendance. She said she was there “only to listen” and not there representing the board or the system. “This is my home, too. I’m here because I love Francisco and this community.”
Francisco School supporters speak up at school board meeting
A large group of concerned citizens attended the Stokes County School Board meeting on August 19, and several made public comments.
Jane Tucker is a Francisco citizen and a retired educator with 31 years of experience: 22 years in Stokes County Schools and 21 of those years working as a teacher at Francisco Elementary School, beginning in 1985.
Tucker said at the time she was working there, the school had combination classes for around ten years, “but through creative work, very strong staff, and a willingness to do more for less,” they did the best they could, and in 1997, Tucker described what she saw as a “renaissance” for the school. “Suddenly, we had six teachers for six grades, full time media staff…for ten years everything went really well…Francisco had the highest ratio of books to students at that time. I retired in 2007, and I thought things were really great. It’s now been five years, and our enrollment, which was at 120 when I retired, is now at around 70…we need to be a school that meets the needs of the community under strong leadership, and we can’t do some of that — it is up to the board and the administration.”
Sandy Hooker told the board that she was concerned over the large number of transfers: “When you are already below 100 students, 27 transfers is a huge number. We’ve been told you receive a head count each month and if that is so then why have you not recognized the problem and questioned why this is happening? We the parents and community are willing to do whateve rit takes, even if it takes writing grants and applying for a charger school…someone needs to stand up and take notice of Francisco School. We as a community will be present at each of hte board members and our voices will be heard for our community and our small school.”
Sylvia Burton described to the board how Francisco was the school her father, herself, and her children attended. “This is my heritage…with each student who leaves our school gets weaker…Francisco is more than a school. I told my husband, ‘If you want children, you will get me back home’ so we moved home to Francisco and I raised my daughter, who is now 20. Francisco helped make me the person I am today…”
Charles Wright addressed the board with his daughter by his side, who is a Francisco Elementary School student. “I have three daughters and all went to Francisco. The oldest is a Junior Marshall now, plays sports, is in Beta Club. My middle daughter is in the AIG program and my youngest is there now. I want to give credit to the education they got from teachers at Francisco — a lot of heart and a lot of smart kids, from the hard work and the perseverance of the teachers. I can see the difference in what they are getting in this school, it is above and beyond.”
Former Stokes County Schools Board Member Bill Hart said his experience as a former board member leads him to think “many decisions are made before the board ever meets” and he told the board that he believed the closing of Francisco school may have been mentioned outside of board meetings. “Francisco is not represented. We don’t have the votes to affect changes. The school has changes for the coming year…they moved the the three most experienced teachers due to a drop in enrollment…if there is a problem, when you see the problem you make the case and let the chips fall where they may, but this business of letting Francisco die because of a thousand cuts is shameful…”
Comments were met with applause and even moments of standing ovation from the audience.
Board Chairman Mike Rogers said he was prepared to “talk honestly” and said he wants Francisco citizens to help the board: “We want you to come in September and help us figure out what it is going to take to make Francisco the best it can be.”
“Without us sitting down and talking to you, we don’t know…it’s not our intention to close the school. When I look in that young lady’s face out there, I know she is proud of Francisco School. We are going to do everything under the sun to keep it open. I thank you for coming out and I thank you for your passion. One thing we can agree on is ‘Let’s worry about our kids.’ We are going to set a date for town hall meeting in Francisco.”
At the end of the board meeting, a date for a Francisco town-hall type meeting between citizens and the school board was set for Sunday, September 22 at 3 p.m., in the gym at Francisco Elementary School.
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