Board of Education Chairwoman Kristin Morrissey adjusted her glasses, exhaustion sweeping her face as she attempted to explain the balance of parents’ redistricting concerns with board priorities, as well as criticism the board has received.
“To those who don’t live down here, you don’t know what it’s like,” she said. “These are our kids, [and] how do you pick? You can’t pick the Creekstone [subdivision] without at least taking Fairfield Farms, and if you take them, you really need to take Ravenswood and Gables; if you add that up, that’s already almost 100 [students,] and then where do you stop? The numbers just unfortunately do not work for Denmark.”
On Thursday, Forsyth County Board of Education members once again wrestled with the high school redistricting map, which has been a point of contention for many throughout the county, particularly those in the southern end, for nearly two months.
The map, which was first presented to the board at its Sept. 12 meeting, has drawn criticism from residents who, Morrissey said Thursday, have all presented compelling arguments as to why their particular subdivision should remain at the current school they attend.
After weeks of listening to residents’ concerns, board members explained their thought processes regarding redistricting at Thursday’s called board meeting.
“People get mad at you no matter what you do but I think we have to plan for the future like we always have"Nancy Roche, District 5 board member
“It’s really hard, because I’ve met with a lot of the people and I feel for them, I really do,” said District 5 board member Nancy Roche, “but you have to look at the big picture. I just cannot bring myself to bring Denmark down to a lower number than 1,300 [students] because I really feel it’s going to be lower than that already.
Added Roche: “I’ve struggled with it just like [Morrissey] has. We’ve met with the committee many, many times, all of us have, and we get complaints if we plan for the future like we are now and then we get complaints saying ‘why [don’t] you plan for that, because that’s in the future,’ and it’s really a tough job because you can’t win.”
At the end of the day, however, Roche said, it’s the big picture – in this case, opening Forsyth County’s sixth traditional brick-and-mortar high school, Denmark, with at least 1,300 students — that matters.
“People get mad at you no matter what you do but I think we have to plan for the future like we always have,” she said. “We’re working on the five-year facilities plan right now. We need another new high school. We need several elementaries. We need a new middle school; there’s a lot going on in this county and we just have to look at the big picture. There are a lot of tough decisions that we have to deal with and it’s not an easy thing. It’s emotional, it really is, and it gets to us.”
One of the main reasons Denmark needs a minimum of 1,300 students to open, Deputy Superintendent of Schools Joey Pirkle said, is to offer an equitable high school experience to the students who attend the facility.
“We want to make sure that Denmark High School has the programs, the extracurricular activities, all of those kinds of experiences that high school kids can be involved in,” he said. “We want that high school to be able to offer those same kinds of experiences and programs and activities that are as comparable to our other high schools as possible. We know that it’s going to be a little different with 1,300 versus 3,000 [students,] but still, we want them to have the same experience.”
Pirkle added when the enrollment numbers get too low, it gets too expensive to have all the programs necessary to create that typical high school experience.
“When you have four students interested in some program, we have to [either] staff that program or say to those four kids, ‘well too bad, we don’t have that program,’” he said. “We’ve had to do a little bit of that in the past, and then they can’t have the same exploratory programs that the other schools have.”
District 3 board member Tom Cleveland said schools also need to think about the staff they’re bringing in and that too few numbers can hurt the quality of teaching.
“I’ve worked in HR before and you really need to think about employee engagement,” he said. “That’s one thing that makes [Forsyth County Schools] great. While the students are doing great, a lot of it is [because] the teachers are great, and to attract those good teachers, we have to have a situation where they want to come and stay. One of our goals is to keep our human capital engagement high and we test that and seek that so our teachers are the best they can be.”
At the end of the day, board members stressed, the county is going to — and will continue to — see change, as growth increases and the county expands.
It’s what residents make of it that will affect the outcome, though, Roche said.
“One of our beliefs is change creates opportunity and I think you, as parents, have to take that home to your kids,” she said. “Whatever decision we come to in the end, you’ve got to make this a positive experience, you really do, because, like I said, it’s not easy to make these decisions and we’re doing the best we can.”
In upcoming weeks, board and committee members will work to incorporate and possibly make changes to the map based on residents’ comments, with the final redistricting draft scheduled to be approved later this month.
Denmark High School is scheduled to open in August 2018 between Mullinax and Fowler roads in southwest Forsyth.