The prospect of a school closing brings out a lot of passionate responses from those involved.
It’s a hard pill for families to swallow or understand, when the knee-jerk reaction is “But this is my school.” This is especially true when the school is at the heart of the community.
Linville-Edom is a small community with generations of former students still living there and sending their own kids and grandkids to Linville-Edom Elementary School, which has about 185 students.
So when it was announced in November 2019 that Rockingham County Public Schools Superintendent Oskar Scheikl was recommending that the school close due to the need for an expensive renovation and overhaul of its septic system, the reactions were swift and impassioned.
“Save LEES” signs began popping up and parents attended every School Board meeting following the announcement, speaking during public comment and imploring the board to seek other options.
And then COVID-19 happened. The issue of whether to keep LEES open or to close it was put on the back burner for issues such as “How are we going to educate our children virtually?”
But now that school is partially in-person and the Home Learning Academy is running as smoothly as can be expected, the School Board is preparing to take up the issue once again.
And it appears the School Board may have heard the pleas of parents. It was announced recently that Scheikl has asked engineering firms to look into more cost-effective options for fixing the school’s septic system.
While a report has not been presented to the School Board yet, it is expected soon. Ultimately, it will be the School Board’s decision of what to do with Linville-Edom.
But when asked if these efforts were being made to save the school, Scheikl said yes. And the news is making parents and community members cautiously optimistic.
Kristin Quesenberry is a Linville-Edom mom of two boys in grades first and fourth. She is a member of Keep LEES Open, a PTO subcommittee.
Like most parents, when she found out that her kids’ school might close, she was “shocked and surprised and saddened,” she said. Questions of “Where will my kids go to school then?” and “What if that causes crowding at that school?” filled her head.
Quesenberry attended School Board meetings regularly and had meetings with members, as well as Scheikl. Her initial reaction of not understanding and frustration eventually subsided as she worked with the School Board, even if her apprehension did not.
So when she heard the news that the School Board was considering other options with the goal of keeping the school open, it gave her hope.
“It was very heartening that they would like to evaluate alternatives to closing the school,” Quesenberry said.
The prospect of crowding at the schools where the 185 Linville-Edom students would land has been the biggest concern for Quesenberry.
“I’m glad for our students,” she said about the prospect of the school remaining open. “When class sizes go up and up, it’s not great for anyone.”
And beyond the issue of crowding, there is something special about Linville-Edom that Quesenberry and her kids would miss if the school closed.
As a small community school with less than 200 students, it’s not uncommon for a fifth-grade teacher to know the name of a kindergarten student they have never taught.
“We’re lucky there are great schools in Rockingham County,” Quesenberry said. “But to have that close-knit, family feeling, it’s special.”
Regardless of what happens, Quesenberry said School Board members have been helpful and understanding of parents’ concerns, making time to address them.
Paul Whatley does not have children at Linville-Edom Elementary School, but as a Realtor, he knows what happens to communities like this one when schools close.
“In any community, property values and that sense of community, schools play a huge role in that,” Whatley said.
He was “heartened” to hear that the School Board is considering other options to closing.
For less densely populated areas of the county, a school is a big part of the community’s identity.
Whatley has also personally seen the effect that closing a school can have on a family. Before moving to the Valley, he lived in a community that closed the school his children attended.
“It put a strain on the family,” he said. “You have to adjust to different schedules and longer commutes.”
A date for when the report of the Linville-Edom septic system will be ready has not been decided but could appear as an agenda item for a meeting soon.