Augusta Supervisor Proposes Middle School Changes - NBC29 WVIR Charlottesville, VA News, Sports and Weather

Augusta Supervisor Proposes Middle School Changes

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It was 1978 when Augusta County built its first middle school. Thirty-five years later, an Augusta supervisor wants to do away with middle school for part of the county.

"Five elementary schools in the western part of Augusta County feed into one school, Beverley Manor Middle School just outside Staunton," said Supervisor Tracy Pyles.

Pyles is advocating for those elementary schools to add sixth and seventh grades with Riverheads and Buffalo Gap high schools picking up eighth.

Pyles makes his case largely on the distance kids travel, but also says, "It's about keeping them in a safer environment longer and it's about saving money."

Augusta County School Board Chair David Shiflett says the board is firmly behind the current middle school system.

"The reason being is because of the equal opportunities of education across the county," Shiflett said.

But Pyles says the more densely populated parts of the county cannot be equally compared to the more rural western parts.

"You can't make them the same. You can't collapse the territory. There's time on a bus, there's time away from home," Pyles said.

For some students that translates into 30 minutes less instruction daily, which translates to 13 fewer school days each academic year.

"That's why, as we look down the road, we think we would like to have either a middle school wing or a stand-alone middle school at Buffalo Gap and at Riverheads," Shiflett said.

Shiflett says reconfiguring the schools would deny some students opportunities for advanced classes, foreign languages, agriculture, and technology.

"We might not have but, you know, two or three kids in a school that would be interested in taking advanced algebra and we couldn't justify having a teacher go to that site to teach two or three kids," Shiflett said.

But Pyles wants to know what it would take to make that happen.

"Until I feel that they have looked at this thing completely and then made good judgment then I'm going to keep speaking," Pyles said.

Pyles hosted a town hall meeting Thursday night with the Craigsville community, focusing on the future of Craigsville Elementary School.

Pyles put forward his suggestion that students spend another two years at Craigsville Elementary instead of moving on to middle school, and the overwhelming response from those who attended - mostly parents and caretakers - was that they are tired of seeing their kids spend hours a day on a bus.

"This meeting is not to tell you that they propose closing the school, but it's to tell you that it keeps coming up. And it's not paranoia if they really are against you. We need to address that, to tell them to stop putting Craigsville on the chopping block," said Pyles.

The school board has said the idea to keep those kids at Craigsville Elementary would take away educational opportunities in foreign languages and technical classes.

School board members are waiting on results from a study to assess a variety of options.

"Yes they are doing a feasibility study at Riverheads, at Buffalo Gap. They're looking into the situation at Wilson Middle School to see if we can add on rooms to that because it is overcrowded at Wilson Middle School," said John Ochletree, an Augusta School Board member who represents the Pastures District.

Members hope that information from an architectural firm will be in by the November 7 meeting, which is open to the public.

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