Community members pleaded with the Barbour County Board of Education to not close Volga-Century and Mt. Vernon elementary schools during a public hearing Tuesday.
Meanwhile, staff members at Philippi Elementary School - where the children from the two schools would be bussed as part of consolidation - said the kids would be welcomed, despite rumors to the contrary.
About 24 community members spoke at the hearing, held at Philippi Elementary. Those wishing to speak their mind about the subject had the opportunity to talk for three minutes.
Marshal Hickman addresses members of the Barbour County Board of Education. (The Inter-Mountain photo by Beth Christian Broschart)
Jessica Jones, a teacher at Philippi Elementary, asked board members to do right by the children.
"I teach third grade here at Philippi Elementary School," Jones said, adding that she previously taught at Mt. Vernon. "I was taught if you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything at all. I believe that Volga-Century is a wonderful school, and I hope it stays open. I believe Mt. Vernon is a wonderful school and I hope it stays open. But I also know that Philippi Elementary is a wonderful school.
"Philippi Elementary has provided and will provide the best education possible for students attending this school."
Jones said the school offers means for teacher collaboration and parent involvement.
"I think we can all agree we want what's best for our children," Jones said. "We have excellent teachers in Barbour County. I want everyone to look at the big picture while keeping our students and teachers in mind.
"When all this is said and done and the students look back on it, what will they be thinking?," Jones said. "Will they be thinking my mom, my teacher or a board members stood up for what they believe in? Or will they be thinking we treated each other like the bullies do in our school? How can we expect our students to unite to solve their problems if we cannot be the model for them?"
Jones said she encouraged everyone to go home and pray about the situation.
"More importantly, pray that God's will be done - not mine, not yours, but God's," Jones said. "We need to do what is right by these children."
Resident Marshal Hickman pleaded with the board to keep the schools open.
"I have been listening hard to the pros and cons of closing these schools," Hickman said. "My opinion is based, not on sentiment, but on what I consider the facts. A yes vote to close two schools, not just closes those two schools, but overcrowds a third one.
"Your vote will put the fifth grade into a situation with the eighth grade students. Many of the parents really oppose this for good reason," he said. "Your vote will send at-risk students on a path to failure. Your vote will send 4- and 5-year old children on a bus ride lasting from an hour to an hour and a half.
"Your vote will take away in-school and after-school activities from students that attended Mt. Vernon and Volga-Century schools. Your vote will necessitate a $5 million bond in the future."
Hickman asked board members to put together a committee of board members, teachers, students and parents, business people and professionals to make a new five-to-10-year plan.
"Please, please, send the children back home," Hickman said. "If you need more money, I bet we can work together to find it."
The next public hearing addressing the possible closure and consolidation of Mt. Vernon and Volga-Century is slated for 6 p.m. Monday at Philip Barbour High School. The board will hear more public comment and expects to make a final decision that night. If public comments go past 11 p.m., the meeting will reconvene at 6 p.m. Tuesday.