Alamance-Burlington school board members heard Monday night from eight speakers – five students, two coaches, and one parent, all from the Southern attendance zone – who urged them to reconsider allowing underclassmen to stay at their current high schools once Southeast High School opens and the high school redistricting plan takes effect.
The seven-high school redistricting plan was approved in November 2022 and is set to take effect at the start of the upcoming, 2023-24 school year. School board members voted last month to allow only rising seniors in the areas affected by redistricting to stay at their current high schools next year (see related story, this edition).
SCHOOL BOARD STICKS BY EARLIER 4-3 VOTE (SO FAR): https://alamancenews.com/southern-athletes-and-coaches-press-school-board-to-let-students-pick-where-theyll-go-next-year/
Our editorial page views on redistricting and who should be exempt: https://alamancenews.com/remedial-lesson-new-high-school-was-to-relieve-overcrowding-not-prolong-it/
Neither the redistricting plan nor any review of the decision to allow only rising seniors to remain at their current high schools in 2023-24 was listed on the school board’s meeting agenda for Monday night.
[Story continues below photos of speakers during school board meeting.]
“I feel this group of individuals have the right to decide what school they will attend.” – Southern High School senior Stanley Eno
Nonetheless, school board members heard this week from: two Southern High School freshmen, both of whom play on the girls’ varsity basketball team; two sophomores at Southern who play varsity football and boys’ varsity basketball; a senior scheduled to graduate from Southern in June who plays varsity football and lacrosse for the Patriots; the assistant coach of the girls’ varsity basketball team at Southern; the head football coach at Southern High School; and the father of one of the student-athletes at Southern who also spoke.
Southern High School was disproportionately represented among the speakers who worried Monday night about the approved redistricting plan and its potential impact on athletes and sports at Southern.
In fact, no one from any of the other five existing high schools appeared before the board this week to express concerns about the redistricting plan, now more than five years in the making and on which the $150 million bond package for ABSS that passed in 2018 had been predicated.
“As an athlete, I feel like I’ve earned my position. I feel comfortable at Southern and don’t feel like I’ll be comfortable at the new school.” – Southern High School freshman Shaniya Payor
Shaniya Paylor, currently a freshman at Southern High School who plays on the girls’ varsity basketball team, told the board, “As an athlete, I feel like I’ve earned my position. I feel comfortable at Southern and don’t feel like I’ll be comfortable at the new school.”
Clara LaChapelle, a freshman at Southern High School who plays on the girls’ varsity basketball team, said Monday night that she has formed invaluable bonds with her teammates. “I would like the option schools.
Their sentiments were reinforced by the two Southern High School sophomores who spoke during the public comments portion of Monday night’s school board meeting.
Ryan Dodson, a sophomore who plays varsity basketball and football for the Patriots, said his coaches and teammates “are the people he relies on every day,” and he fears that the new high school, Southeast, won’t offer everything that Southern offers.
ABSS chief academic officer Revonda Johnson said later Monday night that Southeast will offer the same classes offered at the other high schools, in keeping with the state’s Standard Course of Study, as well as the electives and career and technical education pathways offered at other ABSS high schools. Southeast High School principal Eric Yarbrough has previously said the new high school will offer varsity sports across the board.
“Everything I’ve been through at Southern the last two years, you’re telling me to leave behind…I’m a three sport-athlete. Y’all are telling me to leave everything I’ve made and accomplished behind.” – Southern High School sophomore Evan Gerringer
Southern High School sophomore Evan Gerringer, who plays varsity football and two other sports, told the board Monday night, “Everything I’ve been through at Southern the last two years, you’re telling me to leave behind…I’m a three sport-athlete. Y’all are telling me to leave everything I’ve made and accomplished behind.”
Southern High School senior Stanley Eno, who is scheduled to graduate in June and plays varsity football and lacrosse for the Patriots, discussed the positive impact his coaches have had on his life in urging the board to consider allowing both seniors and juniors to stay at their current high schools.
Eno recalled that he was forced to change schools between elementary and middle school, and as a result, he went from seeing his friends every day to barely seeing them at all. After losing his father at a young age, Eno said he became extremely close to his coaches throughout high school, because they filled a void left by his father’s absence. “I feel this group of individuals have the right to decide what school they will attend,” Eno added.
Jamie Gerringer, who said he is Evan Gerringer’s father, also raised concerns about transporting students from “inner city schools” (i.e., students who would be redistricted from the Cummings and Graham zones to the Southern and Southeast attendance zones), particularly since ABSS, like many school systems across the state, has struggled for years to hire enough school bus drivers.
“How are we to [accommodate] a new high school, along with taking children from inner-city schools – Cummings, Graham, Williams – and transporting them to Southern Alamance if we can’t hire bus drivers?” Jamie Gerringer asked Monday night.
Jamie Gerringer also urged the school board to investigate the hiring process for bus drivers, telling the board he knows two qualified applicants – including his own mother, whom he said has held a commercial driver’s license for years – who spent more than a year trying to get through the application process. “That needs to be looked into – why the hiring process is piss-poor,” Jamie Gerringer told the board Monday night.
Southern coaches urge board to consider impact on athletes
Meanwhile, two Southern High School coaches urged the board this week to allow all current students to stay at Southern when the redistricting plan takes effect.
“Please allow the currently-enrolled students at Southern to remain at their school,” said Lloyd Church, who is the assistant coach of the girls’ varsity basketball team at Southern High School. “Forcing them to start over…is a huge step backwards. Give them the choice to let them decide what’s best for them and their family.” – Southern High School assistant girls’ basketball coach Lloyd Church
“Please allow the currently-enrolled students at Southern to remain at their school,” said Lloyd Church, who is the assistant coach of the girls’ varsity basketball team at Southern High School. “Forcing them to start over…is a huge step backwards. Give them the choice to let them decide what’s best for them and their family.”
“Relationships are why I’m here tonight,” said Fritz Hessenthaler, head football coach at Southern High School. “I’m not a political person. I’m here to be the voice of reason for children I don’t know; children I do know; children without a support system at home [and those] with a support system at home.” He said students are “being forced out of what is a great situation because [of] a number,” apparently referring to claims that, according to past and current ABSS administrators, enrollment has exceeded Southern High School’s stated capacity by several hundred students for years.
“I implore anyone who is listening,” Hessenthaler added, “to look at the very successful models around us [such as Randolph and Chatham County schools].”
By contrast, Hessenthaler appeared last month to be on board with the move after the North Carolina High School Athletic Association announced that the Patriots will move from the Class 4-A DAC-VII Conference to the Central Carolina 3-A Conference in 2023-24. Southern will be in the same conference with Eastern and Western high schools; Williams High School; Cedar Ridge and Orange High School in Hillsborough; and Person High School in Roxboro.