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Angry parents visit board meeting

About 20 parents addressed the Letcher County Board of Education this week to express their unhappiness with a “middle school concept” the board approved late last year.

The majority of those who spoke to the board are parents of students who attend Martha Jane Potter Elementary School at Kona. They attended Monday night’s meeting to ask the board to reconsider its decision to turn Martha Jane Potter into a kindergarten through Grade 5 facility only, and to change Fleming-Neon Elementary School into a middle school for students in grades 6 through 8.

Monica Combs, who has two daughters at MJP, presented the board with a petition signed by parents who want MJP and FNES to remain kindergarten through 8th grade schools.

“ We would like for it to be stopped,” said Combs. “I’m real concerned for the kids and would like to keep mine at MJP. They love it there. They want to go. They are safe.”

Combs said everything appears to be going well the way it is now and she doesn’t understand why the system is being changed.

“They are happy where they are and should be left alone,” said Combs. “It’s not going to work out the way you think it is.”

Marsha Holcomb, whose children also attend MJP, said students there have good test scores and 29 students were recently recognized for scoring distinguished on last year’s state tests.

“ They are doing well there,” said Holcomb. “The majority of the kids don’t want it.”

Holcomb’s husband, Jason Holcomb, is concerned about losing athletic programs at MJP when it becomes an elementary school.

“When you take the athletics out of a school, you lose identity,” he said.

Some parents said they weren’t aware that the board was going to vote to make MJP an elementary school and Fleming-Neon a middle school at the December board meeting.

“It has blindsided us,” said Keith Kincer, whose children attend MJP. “As more Martha Jane parents find out about this, the louder it will get.”

“We have wallowed it for months,” said Board Chairman Will Smith. “I said a decision would be made in December. I made it real clear.”

Combs said her child can’t concentrate at school because she is worried about changing schools.

“I really feel in my heart this is a bad decision,” said Combs. “At least prolong it another year. Get more facts about what it is going to do to children. Give it more time that what you have.”

Not everyone who spoke to the board was against the new plan.

Angie Cornett, whose child attends FNES, said she was aware of the consolidation and is fine with it.

“What I think will come out is our kids will get the best of both,” said Cornett, adding that she thinks the new plan will make the transition to high school easier for her children.

Jim McAuley, a teacher at FNES, said enrollment has continued to decline at FNES and said there were 315 students enrolled at FNES in 2000 and now 10 students are in the sixth grade. He said 61 students are enrolled in grades 6-8 at Fleming-Neon

“It makes it difficult for us,” said McAuley. “Next year we would be funded for two middle school teachers. Last year we had three.”

McAuley’s great-aunt is the late Martha Jane Potter. His great-grandfather donated the land on which MJP sits.

“I am so excited to get to work with some of these teachers at Martha Jane,” said McAuley. “ I would like to make it as smooth a transition as possible. I understand it is upsetting.”

Other parents attended the meeting to address a decision the board made at its November’s meeting concerning the enforcement of school district boundary lines. The board voted to require schools to begin enforcing attendance boundary lines already on the books, but to permit students already enrolled in schools outside their district to remain there. Parents attending Monday’s meeting told the board they want all of their children to be able to attend their school of choice.

Mayking parent Devin Potter said she provides her own transportation to get her children to school, pays county taxes and should be able to decide where her children get an education.

Smith said he is gathering information as to how many students this affects and said the issue would be addressed again at the board’s February meeting.

“I am looking at what you are talking about,” said Smith. “I’m looking if we can refine this a little bit.”

Harrison Boggs has two grandchildren who live in the Cowan district but attend West Whitesburg Elementary School. He wants his two younger grandchildren to be able to join them at WWES.

Boggs said board members have known about the lax of enforcement of boundary lines for much of their tenure.

“ I have been here 20 years,” Smith answered. “I guess it was on my watch.”

Hilary Meade told the board she has been trying to get answers from district administrators for about six months concerning preschool placement. Meade is concerned that the current policy has too many loopholes and is based on “who you are or who you know”.

Meade said she is concerned with what she sees as a lack of communication on the part of the board.

“I don’t feel like you are communicating with the public to tell us why you do things,” said Meade.

In other business, Chris Russell, construction manager of the Letcher County Area Technology Center, said instructors could possibly begin moving into the new facility Feb. 20 with classes beginning there the first week of March. He expects the punch list to be completed by Feb. 27.

Russell said the skylight system is not yet installed on the pedway connecting Letcher County Central High School to the technology center. Russell said provisions could be made to begin school before the skylight system is finished.

The board also:

• heard from auditor Rupert White of White and Associates, who told the board it had an excellent annual auditor’s report for the 2010-2011 school year.

“From a district perspective, an excellent audit,” said White.

• approved a request by Arlie Boggs Elementary School to allow students to travel to Gatlinburg, Tenn., on Feb. 17 for a Beta Club conference.

• approved West Whitesburg Elementary School’s request to participate in a math-a-thon project. Students will collect donations for completing a math workbook with money raised benefitting St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital.

• approved payment of claims for construction of the Letcher County Area Technology Center: WD Construction, LLC, $66,582.24; Alliance Corporation, $118,557.07; J&J Masonry, Inc., $ 38,617; Structural Steel Services, $2,070; Grayhawk, $10,351; Nexgen Building Supply, $ 10,281; Carpet Decorators, Inc., $10,641.85; Elliott Contracting, $122,048.10, Elliott Supply & Glass, $ 19,317.40; Codell Construction, $ 16,970; and Sherman Carter Barnhart Architects, $4,197.26.

• learned of the resignation of Abigal Roark, a teacher at Letcher County Central High School.

• learned of the certified employment of Betty Acevedo, a special education teacher at Beckham Bates Elementary School; Brandon Garrett, a special education teacher at Cowan and West Whitesburg elementary schools; and Aaron Holbrook, a special education teacher at Letcher County Central High School.

• established meeting dates for 2012. The board will meet in the Lendell Smith Memorial Conference Room of the Letcher County School Bus Garage Feb. 27, March 26, April 23, May 21, June 25, July 23, Aug. 28, Sept. 24, Oct. 22, Nov. 26 and Dec 17.

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