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WILSON COUNTY SCHOOLS

Why close 2 schools? Mergers pave way for new buildings

Posted on May 12, 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.

olivia@wilsontimes.com | 252-265-7879

The Wilson County Board of Education held a series of school consolidation discussions over the past several months after county commissioners asked the school board to evaluate facility needs and long-range plans.

Some 17 of the district’s 24 schools were built prior to 1978, and 12 of those are elementary schools.

RELATED STORY: Parents and teachers speak up for their schools

Consultants from the Operations Research and Education Laboratory, part of N.C. State University’s Institute for Transportation Research and Education, performed a 2020 study for Wilson County Schools that examined enrollment trends and forecast building use rates. The lab, known as OREd, also examined population growth patterns, new residential and commercial construction and school capacity needs.

The study found that the district has more space than students, which means certain elementary and middle schools are being underused, while others are near or at capacity.

The OREd study suggested closing some underused elementary school buildings. Consultants gave the Board of Education various options.

In a February joint meeting with the school board, Wilson County commissioners sought to change the conversation around school closures. Instead of pumping tax dollars into patchwork fixes for aging schools, commissioners want to invest in new school construction. Commissioners have said they can afford to build two new elementary schools in areas where they’re needed.

But to do that, the school board would need to make tough decisions.

Investing in modern infrastructure requires closing old buildings such as Winstead Elementary School and underused buildings such as Toisnot Middle School. Toisnot Middle opened in 1987. Winstead Elementary dates back to the early 1900s, but the school’s current building was constructed in 1953 with some upgrades in 1988, according to the district.

School officials have said closing older and underused facilities would allow the district to relocate teachers in order to fill vacancies at other schools, reducing the need for substitutes.

Toisnot has 10 staff vacancies as of this week, according to figures provided by the district.

TITLE 1 SCHOOLS

Winstead is one of 12 Title I elementary schools in the district, while Toisnot is one of four Title I middle schools.

Schools receive the Title I designation when children from low-income families make up at least 40% of enrollment. Those schools are eligible to use Title I funds to operate schoolwide programs in order to raise student achievement levels, according to the U.S. Department of Education.

REASSIGNMENT OPTIONS

If Toisnot is closed, students at Frederick Douglass Elementary — also a Title I school — would move to that building while their new school is built. The temporary move would save millions of dollars the district otherwise would spend on mobile classrooms for Douglass students during construction.

While the district learned last week that the Douglass Elementary project won’t receive money from the N.C. Needs-Based Public School Capital Fund, officials still plan to build a replacement. Wilson County will explore traditional financing for the project.

If Winstead and Toisnot are closed, Wilson County Schools would need to reassign students and employees from Toisnot to possibly Darden, Elm City and Forest Hills middle schools. Winstead students could be reassigned to Vinson-Bynum and Hearne elementary schools.

Consultants from OREd presented those options to the school board after collecting and analyzing relevant data.

On its website, Wilson County Schools provides a timeline of events leading up to Monday’s public hearing. For more information, visit the shortened link www.tinyurl.com/35dxtxhc.

Enrollment and capacity

Toisnot’s current enrollment: 364.

Toisnot’s student capacity: 670.

Winstead’s current enrollment: 355.

Winstead’s student capacity: 453.

Students who qualify for free or reduced lunch

Toisnot: 73.77%.

Winstead: 87.89%.

Toisnot staff vacancies

• Physical education teacher.

• Sixth grade math teacher.

• Sixth grade science teacher.

• Seventh grade English language arts teacher.

• Seventh grade math teacher.

• Eighth grade math teacher.

• Two exceptional children’s teachers; one of these positions will open May 30.

• Two multi-class leader positions (part of the Opportunity Culture initiative).

Winstead staff vacancies

• Art teacher, which will open June 30.

• Behavior support assistant.

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