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GCS Superintendent recommends two schools for possible closure

By Yasmine Regester / April 19, 2019

Concerned parents with children who attend Gateway Education Center (GEC) and Hampton Elementary attend a school board budget meeting addressing proposed school closures.
Yasmine Regester/Carolina Peacemaker

“Gateway Education Center will remain open,” said GCS Superintendent Sharon Contreras at a Guilford County Schools Board of Education work session on April 17.

More than 50 parents and supporters of the special needs school attended the meeting in search of answers after learning the school was recommended for closure next school year.

Parents were notified by phone on Friday, April 12, as GCS students were beginning spring break, that Gateway would be closing its doors at the end of the school year.

“Any mistakes in communication made by school staff or my communications department, I own, and I apologize for the angst it has caused these families, but we were trying to make sure you were not blindsided and we were trying to make sure we got children to safety,” Contreras said.
At the Wednesday morning meeting, Contreras cited ongoing maintenance issues that include water leaks, windows with broken seals that trap moisture in between the glass panes, pest control, raw sewage, clogged toilets and a non-functional therapy pool that has been used to store broken and outdated equipment.

GCS Superintendent Sharon Contreras

“I believe we have to do what is best for our students, particularly our most vulnerable children,” said Contreras.

District 5 BOE member Darlene Garrett made a motion to ask the Guilford County Commissioners for more funds in order to repair Gateway. It was seconded by District 4 BOE member Linda Welborn, but because the meeting was a presentation on the budget and not a voting meeting, the motion had to be withdrawn.

“If the superintendent really wants to put her money where her mouth is, she will say we need to fix Gateway,” said Garrett.

Gateway serves students with significant disabilities from pre-Kindergarten through age 22. Sup. Contreras said that GEC students will have the option of staying at GEC, and the district will work with parents to determine how to relocate the students to other buildings on the campus. She noted that the district anticipates that most, if not all, Gateway students can transfer to Haynes-Inman Education Center in Jamestown, which also serves students from pre-Kindergarten to age 22 with similar disabilities and healthcare needs. Located about 15 miles away from Gateway, parents have expressed concern about the longer commute for their special needs student.

“East Greensboro and the families who live there deserve to have this type of facility in their community,” said Dania Ermentrout, GEC PTA president and mother of a seven-year-old Gateway student. “This community is bigger than its walls. It is very difficult for families with severely disabled children to have a regular life.”

Parents also have the option of two other special needs schools in the area: Herbin-Metz Education Center in Greensboro, which is located about 1.5 miles away from Gateway and serves students with disabilities from Kindergarten through eighth grade; or to Christine Joyner Greene Education Center in Jamestown, which serves students with disabilities from grade nine to age 22. Both schools opened in 2013.

In January 2019, a facilities report by MGT Consulting Group recommended that GCS spend nearly $1.5 billion dollars to fix more than two dozen schools, although Gateway was not one of them. The facilities report listed the Gateway facility, which was built in 1983, in poor condition and in need of repairs, but no change.

“The school board is saying that Gateway is not needed anymore. We know better that that. We know what kinds of kids are being born and what kinds are surviving prematurity. That’s why we will always need that space,” said Dale Metz, who served as the principal of Gateway for 21 years.

“I understand money problems, but we’re talking about kids that don’t have many choices and we need to take advantage of what they have,” Metz added.

According to state statutes, in order to close a public school in North Carolina, the law requires a thorough study of a school and the welfare of students affected by the school closing, as well as hold a public hearing.

An impromptu press conference was called by Guilford County Schools officials on Sunday, April 14, but was canceled, as parents of GEC students waited outside the school.

The issue will be discussed further at the next school board meeting on Tuesday, April 30 at 6 p.m.

Also in the superintendent’s proposed budget is a recommendation to close Hampton Elementary. The school has been closed since April 15, 2018, after a tornado ripped through East Greensboro severely damaging it and two other schools, Peeler and Erwin Montessori Elementary Schools. Students were transferred to other schools, with Hampton operating alongside Reedy Fork Elementary. Peeler students were sent to Bluford, and Erwin Montessori students went to Alamance Elementary, where Contreras said they will remain next year.

Contreras said her recommendation came after learning from a parent survey in April 2019, that not enough parents intended to send their children back to Hampton at Reedy Fork in the fall. Early estimates by district officials say that approximately 50 students are expected to attend Hampton at Reedy Fork next school year, a dramatic decrease from the 297 that were enrolled at the time of the tornado.

Hampton parents also have the option of sending their students to a newly zoned school, which will be either Simkins Elementary or Faulker Elementary, based on their address.

District 7 BOE member Byron Gladden noted some of the concerns of Hampton parents such as sending them miles away from their neighborhoods to attend school.

“Hampton does have a voice. It is strong in spite of its socioeconomic conditions in East Greensboro. Hampton is a sister school to Gateway,” said Gladden. “It’s about equity for all schools in Guilford County. If something happens to one, it happens to all.”

According to Contreras, the school district is still waiting to hear back from the insurance company on compensation for the damaged schools. Contreras noted that due to Hampton’s previously existing maintenance problems, district officials are expecting less money from the insurance company. The district has said that proceeds from insurance will be used for the design costs of building a new Hampton-Peeler Elementary School.
Hampton Elementary Principal, LaToy Kennedy, will serve as the new principal of Wiley Elementary. She served as the principal there earlier in her career.

While it is sad to lose one’s school, Hampton PTA President, Latashia Moore said it is also a relief to finally know what the students can do going forward.

“This does mean that there are less options for the kids now. It’s sad to lose Hampton because it has been here for so long. But no matter where Hampton is, we’re going to rise together,” said Moore.

A public hearing on Hampton’s closing will be held on April 30.


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