A question about what Decatur City Schools should look like in five to 15 years turned into an indictment of existing facilities and a call for a state-of-the-art high school.
“We have the worst facilities in north Alabama,” resident Russ Harolson said. “You can talk athletics and academics. They are both outdated. We’re 25 years behind schedule.”
His comments came Monday night during the second of four community meetings to discuss the future of Decatur City Schools.
The final two meetings will be 11 a.m. today at the BBVA Compass downtown branch and 5:30 p.m. today at the Austin High School auditorium.
The goal of the meetings is to get 1,000 city residents to help the school board formulate the school system’s strategic plan, which may include a combined high school or plans for “significant” capital improvements at Austin High and Decatur High, Superintendent Ed Nichols said.
About 200 residents came to Decatur High. They were split into several groups and placed in different locations throughout the school.
The group that went to the library consisted of several teachers and former Austin High basketball coach Bob Harpe.
He left no doubt that having one combined high school is in the city’s best interest.
“If we have one school, all the efforts can be pooled into that school,” Harpe said.
His comments came after Harolson and others in the group talked about what Jennie Marie McMasters called “old, old, old buildings” in the school system.
Parent Robin Limbaugh said she was “shocked” when she visited Decatur High during an open house and “didn’t have a good feeling” about the school.
No one in the group spoke against a combined high school, but some were not ready to cast their vote for it.
Although they spoke favorably about one high school, Limbaugh, Greg Smith and Jim Mayfield said they needed more information from the superintendent before making a final decision.
“I can’t say intelligently what we need to do because I need more facts,” Smith said.
If Decatur builds a new high school, teacher Cindy Yates said, she wants better facilities for career technical education, “so that students that don’t go to college” can leave high school with a skill.
“We have to reach all of our students,” she said.
“If we’re going to build a state-of-the-art high school, we’ve got to meet every student at their level, whether they are an A, B or C student,” he said.
Question: What do you like about Decatur?
Responses: Small-town environment; close knit community; park and recreation; central location; good public schools; low cost of living; less crime; 15 minutes to anywhere; good churches; affordable land; civic-minded groups; residents who come back to the city; caring/giving community; great variety of activities for children; Ingalls Harbour; small but big community; proximity to good airport; close to colleges.
Question: What do you like about the schools in Decatur?
Responses: Teachers; class size; diversity of programs; security; tradition at both high schools; not overly big; kids don’t get lost in the crowd; schools open to parental environment; consistency in leadership and tradition; sporting tradition; administration available and caring; fine arts; depth of resources with reading teachers; something for every child, from IB to developmental; student-mentoring program; progressive.
Question: What do you want Decatur to look like in five, 10 or 15 years?
Responses: Revitalized downtown; no title or pawn shops on Sixth Avenue; technical school; healthy, growing city; natural science museum; some of the eyesores gone; vibrant, clean, buildings that are utilized; improve look of Sixth Avenue; apartment living downtown for young professionals; attractive, clean and better hotels; something over by the railroad station; improved entrance ways with landscaping, walkable areas and bike trails; better land use planning.
Question: What do you want the Decatur City Schools to look like in five, 10 or 15 years?
Responses: More books in library; all brand new, better, clean facilities; landscape standards for all schools; sixth grade not be in middle school and fewer teachers for sixth-graders; updated Ogle Stadium; centrally located multi-sports facility; get test scores up; lower dropout rate; more opportunities for students to get college credit; vocational program with emphasis on blue-collar skills; to be known as best district in the USA; pre-K in every community; figure out if one high school or two; technology brought to high school level; technology in every classroom; laptops for high school students; be highest paid for teachers in the state; flexible schedules for high school; extended day in elementary and middle; equality of programs at the two high schools; secured facilities.
Question: What will it take to get all these things we want in our community and for our schools?
Responses: Lots of money; miracle; sell Decatur; community support; volunteers; shared vision; commitment; willingness to change; parental support; personal responsibility; higher property taxes; courage amongst leadership; consistency; partnerships with business and industry; be proactive; strong leadership/thinking big; state level support; consistency in political leadership.
The remaining “We Know We Can” community meetings will be 11 a.m. today at the BBVA Compass downtown branch and 5:30 p.m. at the Austin High School auditorium.
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