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WILSON COUNTY SCHOOLS

Parents and teachers speak up for their schools

Posted on May 10, 2022

Updated on May 13, 2022

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Wilson County Board of Education members listen to a speaker's comments in a May 9 public hearing on the possible closure of Winstead Elementary and Toisnot Middle. The board is expected to hold discussions on the matter during its regular meeting at 6:30 p.m. Monday, according to the agenda. The meeting will be held at its normal location, 117 Tarboro St. NE.

Drew C. Wilson | Times

Wilson County Board of Education members listen to a speaker's comments in a May 9 public hearing on the possible closure of Winstead Elementary and Toisnot Middle. The board is expected to hold discussions on the matter during its regular meeting at 6:30 p.m. Monday, according to the agenda. The meeting will be held at its normal location, 117 Tarboro St. NE.

Latonya Woodard dabs tears as she addresses the Wilson County Board of Education during a public hearing on potential school closures Monday night.

Drew C. Wilson | Times

Latonya Woodard dabs tears as she addresses the Wilson County Board of Education during a public hearing on potential school closures Monday night.

Winstead Elementary teacher assistant Cornell Mercer speaks at the Wilson County Board of Education’s public hearing on potential school closures.

Drew C. Wilson | Times

Winstead Elementary teacher assistant Cornell Mercer speaks at the Wilson County Board of Education’s public hearing on potential school closures.

Wilson County Board of Education members and Superintendent Lane Mills listen during a public hearing on the possible closure of Winstead Elementary and Toisnot Middle.

Drew C. Wilson | Times

Wilson County Board of Education members and Superintendent Lane Mills listen during a public hearing on the possible closure of Winstead Elementary and Toisnot Middle.

Lisa DiMaggio, a Winstead Elementary School teacher, speaks during a Monday public hearing on the possible closure of Winstead and Toisnot Middle schools.

Drew C. Wilson | Times

Lisa DiMaggio, a Winstead Elementary School teacher, speaks during a Monday public hearing on the possible closure of Winstead and Toisnot Middle schools.

Teachers and parents listen during Monday night’s public hearing in the Fike High School auditorium.

Drew C. Wilson | Times

Teachers and parents listen during Monday night’s public hearing in the Fike High School auditorium.

Toisnot Middle School teacher Theresa Perry uses her cellphone to record a speaker at Monday’s public hearing.

Drew C. Wilson | Times

Toisnot Middle School teacher Theresa Perry uses her cellphone to record a speaker at Monday’s public hearing.

Darden Middle School student Christopher Gomez Hernandez, left, listens as his mother, Yanira Hernandez, speaks during a Monday public hearing at Fike High School.

Drew C. Wilson | Times

Darden Middle School student Christopher Gomez Hernandez, left, listens as his mother, Yanira Hernandez, speaks during a Monday public hearing at Fike High School.

Wilson County Board of Education members listen to a speaker's comments in a May 9 public hearing on the possible closure of Winstead Elementary and Toisnot Middle. The board is expected to hold discussions on the matter during its regular meeting at 6:30 p.m. Monday, according to the agenda. The meeting will be held at its normal location, 117 Tarboro St. NE.

Drew C. Wilson | Times

Wilson County Board of Education members listen to a speaker's comments in a May 9 public hearing on the possible closure of Winstead Elementary and Toisnot Middle. The board is expected to hold discussions on the matter during its regular meeting at 6:30 p.m. Monday, according to the agenda. The meeting will be held at its normal location, 117 Tarboro St. NE.

Latonya Woodard dabs tears as she addresses the Wilson County Board of Education during a public hearing on potential school closures Monday night.

Drew C. Wilson | Times

Latonya Woodard dabs tears as she addresses the Wilson County Board of Education during a public hearing on potential school closures Monday night.

Latonya Woodard dabs tears as she addresses the Wilson County Board of Education during a public hearing on potential school closures Monday night.
Winstead Elementary teacher assistant Cornell Mercer speaks at the Wilson County Board of Education’s public hearing on potential school closures.
Wilson County Board of Education members and Superintendent Lane Mills listen during a public hearing on the possible closure of Winstead Elementary and Toisnot Middle.
Lisa DiMaggio, a Winstead Elementary School teacher, speaks during a Monday public hearing on the possible closure of Winstead and Toisnot Middle schools.
Teachers and parents listen during Monday night’s public hearing in the Fike High School auditorium.
Toisnot Middle School teacher Theresa Perry uses her cellphone to record a speaker at Monday’s public hearing.
Darden Middle School student Christopher Gomez Hernandez, left, listens as his mother, Yanira Hernandez, speaks during a Monday public hearing at Fike High School.
Wilson County Board of Education members listen to a speaker's comments in a May 9 public hearing on the possible closure of Winstead Elementary and Toisnot Middle. The board is expected to hold discussions on the matter during its regular meeting at 6:30 p.m. Monday, according to the agenda. The meeting will be held at its normal location, 117 Tarboro St. NE.

olivia@wilsontimes.com | 252-265-7879

Teacher Suzanne Stott didn’t mince words at Monday night’s public hearing on the possible closure of Winstead Elementary and Toisnot Middle schools.

Stott, who recently left Wilson County Schools after 16 years, contended that the district only cares about students whose parents voice their concerns.

“I was hoping that you guys would prove me wrong,” she told the Wilson County Board of Education. “But unfortunately, with a lack of transparency in these decisions and a lack of stakeholders within the communities being a part of the decision, it still feels like, unfortunately, the people that don’t make the phone ring at central office lose their schools.”

RELATED STORY: Why close 2 schools? Consolidation paves way for new buildings 

Stott said when she left Toisnot in January, her job was the school’s ninth vacancy this year.

“I was under the impression that one of the reasons for closing Toisnot is because it would be hard to fill those positions to create a full staff,” Stott said. “If WCS is concerned about filling those positions, wouldn’t it be helpful to know why teachers are leaving or why they don’t want to teach at Toisnot?”

Stott listed several concerns.

“Changing schools for students at Winstead and Toisnot will only add to the issues of social-emotional needs,” she said. “I know that making a choice to close any school is a difficult one. However, to address the elephant in the room, it does not look great for Wilson County Schools to be possibly closing two schools predominantly of economically disadvantaged students of color.”

Stott was one of 16 people who spoke Monday during the hearing held in Fike High School’s auditorium.

School board members haven’t made a decision on the schools’ fate, and no date for a scheduled vote has been announced. The Wilson County Board of Education is currently making decisions about long-range facilities planning at the direction of the Wilson County Board of Commissioners.

In the public hearing, board members said they were there to listen to speakers’ concerns and not to respond.

LONG-RANGE FACILITY PLANS

The Wilson County Board of Education voted 6-1 on April 13 to prepare Toisnot Middle and Winstead Elementary for potential closure, directing administrators to draft consolidation plans that would shift those schools’ students to other campuses.

The proposal would reassign Toisnot and Winstead staff and students for the 2022-23 school year. Over the past several months, the board has held discussions on long-range facility plans that include consolidating Wilson County Schools’ underused elementary school buildings.

Across the district, enrollment declined by nearly 2,000 students over the past six years. And the problem, school officials acknowledge, is having more space than students. Wilson County’s 14 elementary schools operate at just 60% of their collective capacity, according to the most recent figures.

‘WINSTEAD IS NEEDED’

Winstead teacher Lisa DiMaggio knows what it’s like to go to bed hungry. That background helps her relate to her students and families.

“I grew up without a mom,” DiMaggio said. “She died when I was 5 years old, and my dad worked to constantly feed all of us.”

While her father worked hard to provide for her and her 10 siblings in a small, one-bedroom house that he built, DiMaggio found refuge. Her teachers and her school were her saving grace.

“They didn’t only teach me, but they fed me, loved me, comforted me,” she said. “Winstead is needed. Our students’ demographic is quite different from others, and our school is so important. We are a family. I beg you, please don’t tear our family apart. The teachers at Winstead understand where our students come from and make sure when they are at school, they find security, love and trust.”

‘THE KIDS NEED THAT SCHOOL THERE’

Dozens of parents and teachers attended the hearing. Many who spoke had questions and concerns.

“Why now?” asked Brittany Daniel, a parent whose children attend Winstead. “I feel like a lot of the issues that they have, a lot of other schools don’t go through.”

She said many Winstead students either walk to school or carpool with other families.

“I feel like we shouldn’t take that school away from that neighborhood,” she said. “Why not see if we can reinvest into it instead of taking it away? These kids need that school there.”

Daniel said if the board has decided to close Winstead, she hoped members did so with proper protocols and thorough research.

ONE-ON-ONE SUPPORT

Latonya Woodard, a parent of twins who attend Winstead, said she has concerns including transportation, larger classrooms and how the change would affect her children and other students. Woodard said her twins started their kindergarten year during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We had to adjust to the norm,” she told the board. She said her children’s kindergarten teacher was very encouraging.

“We worked together,” she said, adding that her twins are now in first grade.

“Phenomenal teachers,” she said. “Now they have been able to attend school physically — build a bond with their teachers.”

At one point, Woodard began to cry.

“At Winstead, my kids get the one-on-one support in small-room classes in order to help them perform,” she said.

‘WHY WAS TOISNOT CHOSEN?’

Tina McMichael, a sixth grade math teacher at Toisnot, said her main concerns are the lack of confidence and trust the students, families and staff are experiencing as well as an overall lack of support from Wilson County Schools.

“When I asked students and fellow staff if they were going to be present this evening, many responded with a feeling that there was no point, the decision had already been made and that there would be no answers for us,” she said. “The consensus was, ‘They don’t care about us.’”

McMichael also raised questions about the process and wanted to know when a final decision would be made.

“Why was Toisnot chosen as the best option for a closure in the first place?” she asked.

McMichael asked about the district’s plan to reassign students and employees if Toisnot closes. She asked if there’s a plan to support students as they transition. She also suggested more transparency and clarity on details regarding the school closings.

‘WE WILL BE HAVING DISCUSSIONS’

Angela Vick, a school bus driver for Toisnot, said a lot of the students walk to school.

“We are having bus driver issues now,” Vick said.

She said the district may have to add bus stops, which will require some students to wake up earlier to wait for their transportation.

“Bus drivers are going to have to make two and three trips,” she said. “We are already short of bus drivers. My concern is transportation.”

Two parents of Darden Middle students raised questions about moving Toisnot students to Darden, joining two athletic rivals under one roof.

Wilson County Board of Education Chairwoman Christine Fitch told those in attendance that she appreciated those who spoke.

“We will be having discussions,” Fitch said. “There is no decision to be made at this time.”

She said school consolidation isn’t easy for anyone, including board members, parents, teachers and community members.

“We are doing the due diligence to try to make the best decisions,” she said.

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