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Albemarle School Board votes to consolidate Yancey Elementary into Red Hill, Scottsville
Yancey Consolidation Hearing, May 25 2017
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Credit: Ryan M. Kelly, The Daily Progress
Members of the school board listen to public comments about Yancey Elementary school during a hearing at the Albemarle County Office Building on Thursday, May 25, 2017.
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Josh Mandell | Thursday, May 25, 2017 at 11 p.m.

The Albemarle County School Board has voted to consolidate B. F. Yancey Elementary School into Red Hill and Scottsville elementary schools in June.

Yancey was denied accreditation by the state last year after failing to meet performance benchmarks for Standards of Learning assessments in three consecutive years.

The School Board began its public discussion of closing Yancey in April, when it was informed by division staff that the school was likely to lose $395,000 next year in federal grants that support educational programs and services.

Yancey’s enrollment dropped to 118 students this year, and only 108 students were expected to enroll next year.

The School Board voted 5-2 in favor of consolidation, with Jason Buyaki and Graham Paige voting against the motion.

“I think the school is simply too small to provide a flourishing and robust learning environment,” said School Board Chairwoman Kate Acuff. “There is something going on when an entire group of children are consistently scoring lower [on SOLs].”

“It is not an uninformed decision,” Acuff said. “It may be an unfortunate decision, but it is not an unfair decision. It would only be unfair if Esmont families were forced to take their children to a school that is unaccredited.”

“I’m going to vote my conscience, and true caring for kids who are involved, for the consolidation process to be implemented,” said School Board member Jonno Alcaro.

School Board member Stephen Koleszar said he was shocked and upset by school climate surveys that showed, among other things, that students at Yancey witnessed bullying more often than students at other Albemarle County schools. 

“I feel like, as a Board, we failed to solve the problems that we knew were taking place at Yancey,” Koleszar said.  “It is with great sorrow that I... will have to vote to close it.”

“I think the only thing we can do to help all of the schools in the Southern Feeder Pattern is make sure they are robust in their numbers,” said School Board member Pam Moynihan.

Moynihan said she was not swayed by public comments from Esmont residents who said the community would pitch in to help Yancey improve its performance.

“When Yancey might close, the [Esmont] community comes out and says, ‘What can we do to help?’” Moynihan said.  “I hate to say this about the community: They may help, but for only six months.”

“There is no right solution,” said School Board member David Oberg. “All of the solutions seem to be bad. What it comes down to, from my perspective, is what is in the best interest of for children at the school right now.”

Buyaki said the School Board had moved too quickly to close Yancey. “I believe the community is going to work hard to help Yancey improve,” he said.

Paige said he too was disappointed that the School Board’s vote on whether to close Yancey took place only 43 days after the Board was informed of its potential loss of grant funding for next year.

“I have been astounded by the rate at which this board has attempted to tackle these problems,” Paige said. “Just moving the students to a new school will not solve many of the underlying problems.”

Paige said that closing a school with a 143-year history in Esmont would have a “traumatic” effect on that community.

In a presentation to the School Board before the vote, chief operating officer Dean Tistadt said that the school division spent $20,493 per student at Yancey, more than any school in the county. The average per-student spending at Albemarle elementary schools is $10,122.

Transportation staff projected that 47 of Yancey’s current students in Kindergarten through fourth grade would have a shorter or equivalent bus ride to Red Hill or Scottsville, while 36 students would have a longer ride. The average bus ride would be shorter by 4.6 minutes.

“A lot of students would have significantly longer bus rides, but some would be significantly shorter,” Tistadt said.

More than a dozen people asked the School Board to keep Yancey open during the public hearing on school consolidation. 

Julian Waters, a senior at Western Albemarle High School who is challenging Paige for the Samuel Miller District seat on the School Board, said that that the decision on whether to close Yancey was being made too quickly.  “I don’t believe it’s fair for anyone involved,” he said.

“Those children had a decline somewhere on the map, and someone didn’t catch it,” said Esmont resident Peggy Scott. “Now we are saying: ‘We have to remove this blemish.’ That’s not how you manage children. That’s not how you manage communities.”

“We would like for you to recognize the strength that is in this community,” said Berlinda Mills of Esmont. “We want our school to stay together.  We are asking you to find a heart, and to give us a chance to prove ourselves.”

Two mothers of Yancey students asked the School Board to close the school, or allow parents to transfer their children to different schools.

“My Kindergartner will not attend Yancey next year. I am proud to tell you that,” said Megan Crickenberger.

Crickenberger said she was dissatisfied by a lack of oversight and structure in her children’s classes at Yancey. She said she had to hire tutors for her children, who were receiving failing grades.

“I have been given no reasons why my child is failing or falling behind,” Crickenberger said.

After the vote, the School Board discussed the process of consolidating Yancey students into Red Hill and Scottsville elementary schools.

The School Board voted 6-1 to request updates on the collective performance of former Yancey students on SOL tests until they graduated or left the school division. Acuff cast the dissenting vote.

“There are small groups of students that are going to move into larger student bodies,” said Buyaki. “Their SOL scores will get wrapped up in the majority of SOL scores."

"I don't think [the updates] will be very useful," Acuff said in an interview. "I think we should be tracking all of our students."

Tistadt told the School Board that Red Hill can accommodate 44 additional students from Yancey in its existing classes and would not require additional classes or classrooms.

Scottsville will require two or three additional classrooms to accommodate 60 additional students, Tistadt said. One new classroom will be built next year as part of a school security addition.

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