Parents in the Genoa community of Wayne County could be about to lose their elementary school. They’re trying to stop the school’s consolidation into Dunlow Elementary, 11 miles to the south on W.Va. 152, but the battle may be over before it begins.
Last week, the Wayne County Board of Education voted 4-1 in favor of Superintendent Todd Alexander’s recommendation to initiate the school closure process for both Genoa and Dunlow elementaries. The two schools would be combined in the Dunlow building with a new name.
The closure process includes sending information to the two schools and public hearings at both schools, which have been scheduled for next month.
Board member Dennis Ashworth voted against consolidation.
“When a community loses its school, too many times they crumble. I don’t want to see that happen to Genoa,” he said. “It makes sense economically, but I’m not ready to say (consolidating) is the only option.
Enrollment numbers say consolidation may be inevitable. Genoa has 61 students. Dunlow has 78. That averages out to about 10 to 15 students per grade in each school.
Combined, the two schools have 29 employees, or about one employee for every five students. As they say in Washington, D.C., justifying those numbers is problematic.
At a meeting in April 2018, the Wayne County school board approved combined classes for the first and second grades and for the fourth and fifth grades at both schools. That puts students from two grades in one room with one teacher.
It wasn’t the first time Wayne County schools had done that, as elementaries at Lavalette and Crum were already working with similar arrangements. At the time, Alexander said research on combined classes showed no hindrance to academic achievement.
The possibility of combining the two schools has hung over the Genoa and Dunlow communities for a while. Understandably, parents in both areas want to keep their schools in their communities. Alexander said the two schools are “only 11 miles apart,” but those 11 miles on W.Va. 152 are not the same as 11 miles on a straight, wide road. Transportation to and from school for class and for after-school activities will place additional expense in money and time on students, parents and the school system.
Keeping a district’s buildings in good condition is an ongoing concern, and resources must be used where they will do the most good. The Wayne County Board of Education must answer the question of whether it can afford to have two schools that are tiny by modern standards.
The fact that Lavalette Elementary and Crum PK-8 schools have had to accept combined classes indicates the future of those schools must be considered, too.
So what’s the answer? It’s too early to say. That’s why county school boards must face the public before they close a school and remove what could be an anchor for a small rural community.
The sad truth is that the small elementary school in a small community is an endangered species. It’s happened before, and it’s happening again. The trend has gone on for decades. With its declining enrollment numbers, Wayne County cannot operate with the same number of buildings and employees as it has in the past.