A correction has been made to this article. See Editor’s Note below the article.
PALMYRA — A lot of people focus on Central Elementary School.
The community focuses on it. Next year the facility will house all early elementary students from preschool to second grade with Cunningham and Columbia community schools closing.
The School Board Office and state focuses on it. It is possibly over one year away from no longer being a state ‘focus school.’
It is, a school all to its own.
With it being larger than most elementary schools and slated next year to be 900 students, Central Elementary doesn’t really have state rules that govern it as strictly as lower populated elementary schools.
Next year the building will have two ‘schools’ in it. West Central Primary School will be for preschool and kindergarten. First and second grade will be Central Elementary School. The two schools will share the same building but will have two different principals and no assist principals.
They are two schools that just happen to share a cafeteria, gymnasium, library and roof.
The administrative structure worried three teachers who spoke at the School Board meeting on March 13. Raw emotion came through as the teachers’ voices cracked, tears held back or a mixture of both.
“I understand SOQ (state mandated Standards of Quality), but I want to get real,” said Elizabeth Barnett. She went on to tell of a story where she witnessed Central’s principal Amy Barnabei with a student sleeping on her office floor as Barnabei rocked another one.
“When I hear we are going to lose administration and teachers…I’m just so scared,” Barnett said.
Barnett also mentioned how it feels there is constant pressure because of Central being a focus school. It is something superintendent Gena Keller understands.
“The stress on teachers in general: elementary, middle and high. Not only the high stakes testing, the fact we have focus schools; they are right. When you are in a focus school, it probably feels like there are lots of people coming in from the state, even central office (School Board Office) realm trying to determine what can get better. It probably feels like ‘what did you do wrong?’” said Keller after the meeting.
The focus school stress won’t be alleviated next year either. Keller said the school has to be in the program next year but thinks it will be the final year. She said this year Central has made great gains and should complete the process.
“It is probably the hardest thing I’ve ever done and they had to do. It is so intense and it never lets up,” said Keller of the program.
Perry Johnson, co-chair of the Fluvanna Education Association and also an elementary school teacher, echoed Barnett’s comments. She told the School Board there are ways to help that aren’t funding related.
“There are things the board can help us, it is that bad,” said Johnson.
The funding situation this past year cut the district back on personnel. The School Board budget request for $14.1 million, $1.9 million over baseline, still had the elimination of 33 positions resulting in 15 layoffs.
Kelli Henning, the third elementary level teacher to speak, said the changes in staffing is felt throughout the building. (See Editor’s note below.)
“I want you to think long and hard how you are funding and placing people at the elementary level,” said Henning. Henning added she was taking a year off because of the stress of teaching.
“Teachers across this nation are under a lot of pressure. This budget issue doesn’t help us because 33 positions changes the face of our school system. I have great concerns,” said Keller.
Since Keller took over the top spot in the school district, FCPS has lost 87 positions including the 33 for this year.
“We have remarkable staff. We are going to lose remarkable staff; that just breaks my heart. It actually is just crushing to lose remarkable staff. But with the staff that I have, we will continue to move forward,” said Keller.
Keller will present the School Board budget request on March 20. The Board of Supervisors will advertise a proposed tax rate and budget as part of that March 20 meeting. It is slated for 7 p.m. at the Fluvanna Circuit Courtroom.
Editor’s Note: An an earlier version of this article, Kelli Henning was incorrectly identified as Kelly Hemming. We regret the error. Correction made at 10:36 p.m. on March 18, 2013