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Emails reveal school board members knew about naming committee

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The Alamance News has examined emails sent to school board members which make clear that all school board members had been notified of a special “community committee” put together by central office bureaucrats, as well as specific notification about the superintendent’s intention, prior to last week’s school board meeting, to recommend the name Hawfields High School for the name of the new high school (the county’s seventh) now under construction on NC 119.

The newspaper reviewed more than 450 pages of correspondence furnished Wednesday in response to the newspaper’s public records request of Monday for all correspondence to, from, and among school board members and the superintendent since he began his duties July 1.

[Story continues below.]


HERE‘S the list of school names suggested by members of the public since last week’s meeting when the naming decision was removed from the school board’s agenda.

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Here’s the tally among the dozen or so members of the public present at the public forum on the naming on Tuesday afternoon (August 30):


The newspaper’s publisher, Tom Boney, Jr., had objected last week to the board’s intention, as evidenced by one of its agenda items, to deal with the naming of the high school based on the recommendation of a so-called “community committee” put together by school officials.
However, the publisher said that group’s establishment and meeting was illegal under the state’s Open Meetings Law, which requires that such public bodies give public notice of their meeting schedule.

School board members voted last week to remove the agenda item, which had been on the agenda with a planned recommendation of “Haw-fields High School,” after Boney’s objection was filed in a letter to school board chairman Sandy Ellington-Graves and superintendent Dr. Dain Butler on Monday afternoon.

ABSS superintendent Dr. Dain Butler and board chairman Sandy Ellington-Graves

When the matter came up last week, some school board members appeared to have been as surprised as the publisher to learn that the committee had been established, met, and recommended the naming to be Hawfields High School.

Indeed, some members stated, outright, that they had not been aware of the group’s existence.

Instead, the newspaper’s review of the email correspondence makes clear that Butler had informed school board members by email of his plans to establish such a committee and of the results of the committee’s one (and only) meeting on August 11.

In an August 11 email to each of the seven school board members, Butler gave an overview of the deliberations that evening. He wrote, “Board, a committee of 30+ individuals met this evening to discuss the potential naming of our new high school. The committee consisted of students, parents, community members, and school staff. The choices are ranked in order below.”

The top three choices (in ranked order) were: Hawfields High; Haw River High; and Melville High, Butler wrote in his August 11 email to the seven school board members.

“Mr. Yarbrough and I both support Hawfields High as the new name, as it was also the top two choices for online community input,” the superintendent noted in his email. “Staff will bring this name recommendation to the Board on August 22 and will request your approval.”

Butler apparently updated the school board on the naming process in response to an inquiry from school board member Allison Gant the day after the board’s August 9 work session.

 

Gant requested update on the naming process on August 11
On August 10, Gant had emailed Ellington-Graves asking to add an update on the naming process to the agenda for the school board’s meeting on August 22. “When will the Board vote be on the naming of the new high school?” Gant wrote. “Where are we on process?”

The documents that ABSS furnished in response to the newspaper’s public records request show that Ellington-Graves forwarded Gant’s email to Butler the same evening and wrote, “I’ll add to [the] list for agenda meeting Monday.”

Few school board members appeared to have weighed in – at least not via email or some other type of written correspondence – on the proposed name of Hawfields High School, based on the documents that ABSS furnished to the newspaper Wednesday.

The newspaper made a verbal public records request for all the materials surrounding the naming process to Butler during the August 22 meeting, which was memorialized in an email the following morning, and a subsequent formal, written public records request filed this week. Specifically, the newspaper asked for: All recordings, notes, minutes, and/or summaries taken during the meeting at Hawfields Middle School; date on which the meeting was held and who hosted it; all correspondence related to the selection of a name; number and names of participants; results from the online survey and dates on which it was posted and where; and all other proposed names that received multiple votes.

However, school board vice chairman Patsy Simpson disagreed with the proposed name, based on a response she sent Butler the same night, August 11.

 

‘Thought we had decided against Hawfields High’
“I thought we had decided against Hawfield[s] High,” Simpson wrote in her message to the superintendent, apparently referring to some earlier discussion between school board members and the ABSS administration. “It doesn’t represent children from [Graham High or Southern High] and they need to [feel] their community is represented.”

School board members ultimately voted 4-3 at a special-called meeting Tuesday night to name the county’s seventh high school Southeast Alamance High School (see related story).

The principal of Southeast High School, Eric Yarbrough, who had previously served as Eastern High School’s principal, sent an email to Atkins on July 12, outlining an ABSS policy for naming new facilities and the next steps in the process. “I think we had decided that sending out a [Google] form for stakeholders to provide proposals to us would be a good first step,” Yarbrough wrote. “The form would be shared via social media, district website, and blackboard messaging…Then we can create a small group of stakeholders to review the top few options and make a recommendation to take to the [school board].”

Atkins told the school board last week that time was of the essence due to the need to order athletic uniforms with the school name, and to secure contracts with vendors.

Yarbrough wrote in his July 11 email to the PIO, “Our goal was to have a name for the [school board] in August or the first meeting in September.”

Yarbrough sent Atkins an email last Monday morning, recapping the formation of the committee and its makeup.

 

New HS principal put committee together
“Mr. Yarbrough, principal of the new ABSS high School, worked to put the committee together,” Yarbrough recalled in his August 22 email to Atkins, who had asked for his help in responding to an earlier inquiry by The Alamance News. “The committee had 31 total individuals and was made up of students, parents, teachers, and district staff. The students that served on the committee were from Hawfields Middle, Southern High, Eastern High, and the Alamance-Burlington Early College.

Eric Yarbrough, who has been designated as the principal for the new high school.

“The students on the committee were recommended by the administration of those middle or high schools,” Yarbrough explained. “Parents on the committee were from Garrett Elementary, Alexander Wilson Elementary, and Hawfields Middle School. Those parents were
recommended by administration from their child’s school.

Finally, there was a group of teachers, administrators and classified staff from a variety of schools (Eastern High, Southern High, Graham High, ABEC, Alexander Wilson Elementary, Southern Middle, Garrett Elementary, and Hawfields Middle. The committee had three individuals from [Central Office].”

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