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BOE sets February vote on Smith-Barnes closing


By Monroe Roark
Times Correspondent  

  A packed house in the Smith-Barnes Elementary School auditorium for Monday night’s Henry County Board of Education meeting spoke as one on the issue of the proposed closing of the Stockbridge school.

The Smith-Barnes Elementary school closing was the focus of a packed Board of Education meeting held Monday night.           Photo by Monroe Roark

  As was the case with the three previous board meetings, no one who spoke during the public comment period was in favor of the closing, part of a plan that would see Patrick Henry Academy relocated to the Tye Street campus and Smith-Barnes students dispersed to either Stockbridge Elementary or Cotton Indian Elementary.

  Superintendent Dr. Ethan Hildreth made it clear at the beginning of the meeting that the public hearing on the issue was just that – a hearing. The board would not vote that night, but instead would consider a recommendation at the Feb. 10 regular meeting.

  “This is not a referendum on Smith-Barnes or any other school,” said Hildreth. “It provides a high-quality education for its students.”

  Chairs were placed on the stage in the auditorium to help accommodate the crowd, which filled the seats in the room and lined the walls.

  Citizens addressed the board for more than an hour, pleading for them to keep the school open and stressing how important it is to the community. Speakers ranged from a current fourth-grader at the school to local residents in their fifties and sixties who identified themselves as alumni.

  Concerns were also raised about the possibility of Patrick Henry Academy, the county’s alternative school, moving to the neighborhood from its current location in the old Stockbridge High School complex a few blocks east. The Patrick Henry campus is the oldest currently operating in the school system, according to a spokesperson, and Hildreth said it would take more than $6 million to renovate it.

  One speaker noted that since PHA does not operate buses, the move would mean a great deal more automobile traffic that Tye Street is not equipped to handle. Others made clear their misgivings about PHA in general, with one woman bluntly asking the board members, “Would you want an alternative school in your neighborhood?”

  Three of the citizens who addressed the board are members of the county’s legislative delegation: State Sen. Emanuel Jones and state representatives Demetrius Douglas and Sandra Scott.

  Noting Hildreth’s assertion that the proposed plan could save the school system $400,000 per year, Jones told the board, “Come to the Capitol. We’ll get you the money.”

  Sen. Jones sent out a press release last Friday protesting the closing, saying that it is the only “Rosenwald school” currently operating in Henry County. Those schools were built primarily for black children during segregation under a collaborative effort between Booker T. Washington and former Sears Roebuck president Julius Rosenwald, Jones said.

  “Mr. Washington and Mr. Rosenwald were committed to educating minorities at the same level of white citizens and Smith-Barnes remains a significant historical reminder of the struggle and triumph of African-Americans in Henry County,” the release stated.



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