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In Cabarrus County, A New School Waits For Students To Fill It

Cabarrus County Schools
Cabarrus County's new Hickory Ridge Elementary is waiting for the pandemic to ebb so students can be allowed inside.

Reopening schools amid a pandemic is complicated enough, but a handful of schools in the Charlotte region are opening for the very first time -- without being able to let students in.

In Cabarrus County, Adrian Parry had already been named principal of the new Hickory Ridge Elementary School when the coronavirus closed schools in March.

Credit Cabarrus County Schools
Cabarrus County Schools
Adrian Perry, principal of Hickory Ridge Elementary School, in her new office.

Parry had started hiring faculty for the 850-student school in Harrisburg. Before the pandemic she’d give her new hires hard hat tours of the school-in-progress.

Afterward, she says, "I came and I took pictures and I made slide shows, and I sent them out to them and I kind of kept them updated so they could see the progress on the ground, running."

Parry used remote interviews to finish hiring her staff. They were gearing up to open the school in August.

But on July 23, the Cabarrus County school board voted 4-3 to start the year remotely.

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools made the same choice. Besides Hickory Ridge, the new schools opening remotely Monday include West Cabarrus High School in Concord; Rea Farms STEAM Academy, a CMS K-8 school in south Charlotte; and Niner University Elementary, run by UNC Charlotte in west Charlotte. A new charter school, Movement School Eastland, is bringing students in to the east Charlotte school on a limited basis.

Admiring From Outside

Parry has relied on social media and virtual gatherings to introduce students, parents and the community to their new school.

"We had a virtual kindergarten camp and the kindergarteners were able to use an application, Flipgrid, to hop on and share a little something about them, and they were able to see a little bit about us," she said.

Credit Google Maps
Google Maps
Hickory Ridge Elementary under construction.

Reeti Douglas’ two children are among the very first Hickory Ridge Cowboys. She says they watched its progress every time they drove by.

"Earlier this week we got to drive up outside the school and pick up their Chromebooks," she said. "They just were like, 'Oh wow, look how pretty it is. It’s brand new.' "

They met their teachers and their new classmates at virtual open houses using Microsoft Teams.

"My son, the fourth-grader, he did like a little nod to his friends," while her second-grade daughter "was like waving like crazy to all these new people that were in her class," Douglas said.

Thinking Of Better Times

The Douglas kids and their classmates will log on from home for their first day of school Monday.

Credit Cabarrus County Schools
Cabarrus County Schools
The Hickory Ridge Elementary gymnasium.

Meanwhile, Superintendent Chris Lowder and his staff will keep reviewing COVID-19 data every two weeks. To reopen for in-person learning, the school board is looking for "a 5% positivity rate or lower, the cases are declining and the hospitalizations are not at a bad point," Lowder said.

When that happens, the plan is to take two or three weeks to gear up for bringing the kids back.

When that happens, Parry says the excitement at Hickory Ridge "will be unreal."

The pictures she’s shared online don’t do it justice, she says.

"You just know that it is going to be a magical place for kids and for families," she said. "I''m excited for the day that kids get to come be a part of that, in a safe manner."

For now, though, they’ll just have to be patient.

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Ann Doss Helms has covered education in the Charlotte area for over 20 years, first at The Charlotte Observer and then at WFAE. Reach her at ahelms@wfae.org or 704-926-3859.