LOCKHART — Would a community having a school where students can and do get one-on-one attention in the classroom make you want to move to that community, enroll your children in its school, open up a business there, run for and serve in elected office there, and write a newspaper column about local happenings?
That’s what happened to Connie Porter, a native of Michigan who, when she moved to South Carolina, chose to live in Lockhart because of Lockhart Schools and the education it could give her children. Since moving to Lockhart, Porter, in addition to enrolling her children in Lockhart Schools, has opened and continues to operate her own business, Connie’s Styling Salon; has ran for, been elected to, and currently serves on the Lockhart Town Council; and writes the weekly “News Around Lockhart” column published in The Union Times.
Porter shared her story with the Union County Board of School Trustees during a special meeting held in the Lockhart Schools auditorium Monday night. The purpose of Monday’s meeting was to provide a forum for parents and guardians of children enrolled in the school and local officials like Porter to present information to the board as it contemplates the future of the school.
The forum was the result of a motion passed by the board at its Feb. 26 meeting to allow Superintendent Dr. William Roach to use his authority to assign employment to employees currently assigned to LEMS to ensure that none of the employees currently assigned to the school lose their jobs for the 2018-2019 school year. The motion also directed Roach to schedule a public forum at Lockhart to allow the board to consider information presented by the Lockhart parents and guardians of current students and local elected officials about the issue in order to decide the best plan of action for the 2018-2019 school year.
The board’s action is being interpreted by the residents of the Lockhart Community as a sign that the board is preparing to close Lockhart Elementary/Middle School. This would mean that Lockhart, which saw the board close Lockhart High School — along with Jonesville High School — 11 years ago and consolidate it with Union High School which was subsequently renamed Union County High School, would be without a local school.
Porter was one of several people to speak at Monday’s forum and she, like the rest, voiced opposition to the closing of the school. She began her address by telling the board about the role the presence of Lockhart Schools and the education it provides played in her decision to move to Lockhart.
“Before moving to Lockhart I lived in a small village, the Town of Holly, Michigan,” Porter said. “We had a school the size of Lockhart (and) the teachers could work one on one with each student because of the small class size.
“So when I came here, I had to choose between Chester and Lockhart,” she said. “I chose Lockhart because it reminded me of home. My children would get a better education because they wouldn’t be looked on as just a number, but as individuals that the teachers could remember what special help that they might need.”
Information sheets handed out by the school district in the aftermath of the board’s vote on Feb. 26 point out that in 2016-2017 the average per student cost at LEMS was $14,211.68 or almost twice that of Buffalo Elementary ($7,694.82), Foster Park Elementary ($7,664.46), JEMS ($7,680.53), and Monarch Elementary ($7,273.34).
The information sheets also point out the LEMS student population, which currently stands at approximately 150, is projected to decrease to 84 by 2025. Of its current student body, 13 students are attending by special permission, without which they would otherwise be attending Monarch Elementary School (1), Foster Park Elementary School (5), Buffalo Elementary School (2), Jonesville Elementary/Middle School (1), and Sims Middle School (4). Another 13 are from outside the district from Chester (7) and York (6) counties.
Porter addressed these issues and proposed that, instead of closing Lockhart School and busing its students to Union, the district bring in students from Union to Lockhart Schools. She said this would address overcrowding in the schools in Union while increasing the number of students attending Lockhart Schools and lowering the per pupil student cost.
“I hear that the classrooms are overcrowded in the Union schools, yet they want to add to the teachers overload,” Porter said. “It was in the newspaper that it costs $14,000 and some per student in Lockhart and $7,000 and some per student in Union. So why not bus 147 students — equal to our 147 — to Lockhart School and cut the cost down to $7,000 per student at Lockhart.”
Returning to how Lockhart Schools helps attract people to Lockhart, Porter pointed out that “I’ve had customers tell me the reason they moved here is checking out schools that rate high and Lockhart is always on that list. We have teachers that care and most have graduated from Lockhart, so the students are personal to them.”
One of the speakers at Monday’s forum was Trystan Garner, a 5th grade student at Lockhart, who asked the board not to close her school.
“I would appreciate it if Lockhart School would not close,” Garner said. “My fellow classmates and I love Lockhart School because we have amazing teachers and amazing friends and amazing memories. Leaving this school would be tragic for more than half of the school. Just thinking about it makes me sad.”
While “our school isn’t perfect,” Garner said “we love it. Isn’t that what’s really matters?”
Garner said that while Lockhart School doesn’t have many students and is fairly small and therefore not a lot of people attend special events like Family Arts Night, this nevertheless makes the school amazing.
One thing that Garner said she found particularly troubling about the possibility that her school may be closed is that she and her fellow students will be losing so many beloved teachers.
“Another thing I must mention is the fact that our teachers might be leaving,” Garner said. “As soon as I heard this I wanted to cry. We love our teachers like Mrs. Youngblood, Mrs. Owens, Mrs. Campbell, Coach Whitehead, Mrs. Palmer, Mr. Wood, Mr. Palmer, Mrs. McKnight.”
Garner concluded her remarks by telling the board that “this is my little sister Khloe’s first year at Lockhart and she absolutely loves it, and she is so smart for a first grader. Anyways, this school serves a big place in our hearts and we love it.”
Also speaking at Monday’s forum was Ashley Castle who told the board “this has been a long time in the making as they have been trying to shut us down since I was in school. I myself am a graduate of Lockhart High School. I have four children who attend Lockhart School and three that went on to Union High.”
Castle also raised the issue of overcrowding in Union’s schools, overcrowding that she said would be made worse by busing the students now attending Lockhart School there.
”My concern is why if it is that Union County schools are so overpopulated as it is why make our kids add to the problem,” Castle said. “To accommodate this I am sure you will have to build more on to the schools or put more mobile units in. That’s a cost, right?”
Castle also pointed out that students at Lockhart School are doing well academically. She said she feels that busing them to the larger schools in Union could have a negative impact on their academic performance.
“The grades here at Lockhart are really good,” Castile said. “As long as the kids are getting a good education and learning what they need, why take them from that and put them in an unfamiliar environment.
“I have three kids that have ADHD and have a lot of problems as it is to concentrate,” she said. “Putting them in a bigger class and changing the environment is only going to add to the distraction level. Will my children still get the extra help they get at Lockhart? They feel as if their teachers are family.”
Castle also addressed the issue of the transportation of her children and their fellow students to Union.
“They are now going to have to wake up a whole lot earlier and get home a whole lot later due to having to travel so far,” Castle said.
Another issue addressed by Castle was the contrast between the attention the district has given the infrastructure needs of the schools in Union and even Jonesville and the lack of attention paid to the infrastructure needs of Lockhart Schools.
“Why couldn’t we have gotten the renovations we needed when they closed down the high school? Or get a new school built?” Castile asked. “They did it for Jonesville and Sims after the fact.
“Whatever happened to the charter school? Why couldn’t we get that?” she asked. “Lockhart has always been treated different.”
Looking back at the closing of Lockhart High School and it consolidation into what is now Union County High School, Castle said Lockhart had been lied to by the school district. Castle reminded the board that when Lockhart and Jonesville high schools were closed and consolidated into Union High School, it had made promises to both communities that the consolidated high school would not only have a new name, but also new school colors and a new mascot.
“Union County schools did nothing but lie to Lockhart,” Castle said. “‘We will change the name, color(s), and mascot of Union County High School. That didn’t happen. No change was made. Still Union Yellow Jackets.”
Another speaker at Monday’s forum was Town of Lockhart Mayor Ailene Ashe who, like Castile, brought up the issue of the physical condition of Lockhart School. Both pointed out that one of the arguments made for closing Lockhart High School was that the building was structurally deficient. Ashe pointed out that this argument was called into question by the subsequent actions of the district.
“Eleven years ago when our high school was closed we were told that part of the reason was structure; the building was unsafe,” Ashe said. “The very next year our middle school was moved into that same ‘unsafe’ building. The underlying reasons of closing our school are clearly not structural.”
In her remarks, Castle asked why the building was okay for elementary and middle school students but not for high school students. She said it was “about the numbers. The numbers made Union a 4A football team.”
Castle concluded by pointing out what the board will be taking away from the community if it closes down the school.
“Many of us walk in these doors and are full of memories and have so many good times,” Castile said. “Our first and our kids first experiences of school. So as you shut down our school just remember you are taking away the last thing Lockhart has.”
The board did not take questions or respond to the statements made during the forum, but did vote to meet Monday (March 12) at 6 p.m. to consider the information received about the issue. The meeting will be held in the cafeteria of Sims Middle School. The vote was 7-1 with Trustee Mike Massey voting no. Trustee Manning Jeter was not present at the meeting.
For the results of Monday’s meeting visit our website (www.uniondailytimes.com) and our Facebook page and see Wednesday edition of The Union Times