Marengo County BOE votes to close John Essex

Published 6:52 pm Thursday, April 17, 2014

The Marengo County Board of Education voted unanimously Thursday to close John Essex High School, effective at the end of the school year.

The school’s future has been in question over the last few years, and the board decided they couldn’t keep it open any longer. The system received their units breakdown for the 2014-15 school year, and John Essex only received a total of nine units. It received seven teaching units, one principal unit, a half of a counselor unit and a half of a library/media unit.

“This has been an ongoing situation,” Superintendent Luke Hallmark said. “We’ve held community meetings, and we received our unit allocations for next year. All of the board members and myself have turned over every possible rock to try to keep it open.”

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Board chairman Mike McAlpine said a School Improvement Grant in 2010 helped keep it open the last four years.

“There’s just no way it looks like we can keep it open,” McAlpine said. “We can’t educate the children as well as we need to.”

Hallmark said the grant helped, but it wasn’t enough.

“The grant did everything it was supposed to do, but it didn’t help the enrollment,” he said. “The technology, the atmosphere, all of that has improved greatly with the grant, but the enrollment has continued to drop. It’s disheartening for everyone. We can’t come close to meeting the needs of the students with only seven teaching units.”

Board member Freddie Charleston, a John Essex graduate, said the decision is about what is best for the students.

“Our job is to do what’s best for the kids, and we have to make this decision based on that and what’s best for the system as a whole.”

Hallmark said it was a tough decision, but a necessary one.

“When we walk out of here today, it’ll hurt us, but we can’t say we didn’t try,” he said.

Hallmark said he will have to meet with the state to figure out the new district for next year to see where the 128 students currently at John Essex will go. The nine units allocated to the school will be distributed through the other three schools in the system as needed.

The enrollment at John Essex dropped from 141 down to 128 from the 2012-13 year to the 2013-14 year.

In other business during the meeting, the board approved the 2014-15 school calendar.

The first day of school will be Thursday, Aug. 7 and the last day for students will be Thursday, May 21, 2015. The following are dates to remember for the 2014-15 Marengo County Schools calendar:

• Aug. 4-6 – Professional development/in-service

•Aug. 7 – First day for students

•Sept. 1 – Labor Day

•Oct. 13 – Professional development/no students

•Nov. 10-11 – Veterans’ Day holidays

•Nov. 26-28 – Thanksgiving holidays

•Dec. 22-Jan. 2, 2015 – Christmas holidays

•Jan. 5 – Professional development/no students

•Jan. 6 – Students return

•Jan. 19 – MLK Day

•Feb. 16 – President’s Day (built-in weather day)

•March 6 ¬– Professional development/no students

•March 30-April 3 – Spring break

•May 21 – Last day for students

•May 22 – Professional development

The board also approved entering into an agreement with the University of West Alabama for the Teacher Connect Program, which offers online classes to teachers at a discounted rate.

The program would allow teachers to take online classes toward a Master’s Degree for $200 off per hour.

Also during the meeting, the board accepted the retirement of A.L. Johnson head football coach Mose Jones. Jones has been at the school for 29 years.

The board also took the following action during the meeting:

•Approved financial reports for March

•Approved bank statement reconciliations for March

•Approved textbook adoptions

The next regular board meeting is scheduled for Thursday, May 22 at 4 p.m.