by Jonathan Weaver
One hour into last night’s school board meeting, the packed audience grew silent.
Armstrong School District board directors made the decision that students and families dreaded to hear, one that caused many students – including Elderton senior class president Taylor Eastlick – to leave in tears.
Elderton High School is closing – permanently.
Directors also made the decision shortly before to close Kittanning Township Elementary.
A half-dozen students and several community spokespersons pleaded with board directors to delay the closing until the new Manor Township high school is opened – tentatively scheduled for Fall 2015 – and Kittanning and Ford City high schools are also closed.
Eastlick was forced to attend Ford City High when the school board closed Elderton for the 2009-10 school year and rejoiced when it re-opened in 2010-11. She asked to graduate from her hometown school.
“I hate being pushed between buildings,” Eastlick said. “This year, I’ll be sent to West Shamokin where I will know no other students and once again be split from my best friends.”
Kim Blatt of Shelocta had many questions regarding the closure’s effects and how it will impact her children, including her 11th grader Danielle, who also spoke at the meeting. She said the school closing will put a lot of un-needed stress on her family.
“Too many questions and not enough answers,” Blatt said.
Junior Kylie Minnich would have to transfer from Elderton to Ford City this fall due to the closure, but might not after all.
“How can all this moving around be good for our learning? I’m strongly considering cyber school as the choice for the rest of my high school career just so I can get some sort of stability,” Minnich said. “I don’t want to learn a new school or try to make new friends again.”
A cyber school meeting at Elderton Towne Hall will be held from 6-8PM July 18 for all interested families.
Bill Glover of Rural Valley called the school closings a mistake if school directors think they will save money. According to Acting Business Manager Sheldon Burk, the district will save $2.9 million on the school closings during the upcoming school year. $500,000 of that will go into budgetary reserve.
“You are going through this process to put forward an agenda that the board majority here has been pursuing for six years or so. You’ve been quite accomplished at doing a psychological hatchet job on the Elderton attendance area,” Glover said.
Region III Board Director D. Royce Smeltzer made one last effort to keep the school open until the end of the upcoming school year.
“The reason I’m doing this is for the proper planning and consideration for families and most of all the students. Sixty days is just not enough for families in our area to prepare for life-changing alterations,” Smeltzer said.
However, no Board directors seconded his motion to force a roll call vote. The words and the tears did not seem to sway school directors in their final vote, with Elderton closing by an 8-1 vote – with Smeltzer dissenting – and Kittanning Township was closed unanimously.
Smeltzer said students’ decision regarding cyber schooling or attending a different District school should be purely their own.
“It’s going to be a personal option from here-on-out, but we’re going to move forward,” Smeltzer said. “Certain courses of education are different for different families.”
Region III Board Director Stan Berdell said it was a difficult decision to make but asked for students to be patient in the process.
My suggestion is to give it a chance. I’m sure things will happen, but we’ll address them as soon as we can.”
Superintendent Stan Chapp said public concerns relayed during the March 26 public meeting will be addressed in several ways, including with an updated school bullying policy, a commitment to activity transportation and an afternoon food bar, as well as providing an additional lunch schedule at West Shamokin High.
“We made a serious and concerted effort to address those concerns,” Chapp said.
Principal Stephen Shutters will also transfer from Elderton to West Shamokin during the first few weeks to work with Principal Kirk Lorigan and Assistant Principal Joseph Treglia.
“I’m confident these three individuals know the parents and students extremely well, and can provide the support needed for the transition from the start of the school year,” Chapp said.
Senior Madison Davis called the Elderton attendance area ‘a family’ and said that will not change based on last night’s vote.
“That’s what we are and always will be,” Davis said.
Board President Joseph Close – whose vote to close Elderton has not changed since he voted to close it nearly four years ago – was inspired by Davis’ plea.
“It seemed to work out OK (in 2009). This time, we elaborated even more on some of the concerns,” Close said. “I think (Davis) had a good suggestion – that’s try to find the positive and move forward with it.”
While Kittanning Township’s closure forces students to attend Lenape Elementary in Ford City, Elderton’s closure causes it’s less-than 30 students to be split between the remaining District schools.