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Hundreds Tell Off CMS For New Plan To Close Harding

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Parents and students oppose CMS plan to close Harding University High.

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Waddell High School is no longer up for closure. Instead, CMS recommends Harding University High School close to make way for Smith Language Academy. CMS announced the new plan yesterday hours before a forum meant to focus on the closing of Waddell. Still, about 900 people showed up last night, many of them Harding parents and students. Ronnell Brown is a junior at Harding. He had planned to come to last night's forum to support Waddell students who were facing the prospect of losing their school. Only when he got home from school yesterday, his mom told him it's his own school he'd be fighting for. "My senior year is coming up and I don't want everything I've worked so hard for washed down the drain," says Brown. Harding is a full magnet. It has an International Baccalaureate program and a math and science program. Under the new plan, the IB program would move to Waddell and the math and science program would go to Phillip O. Berry. Students could also choose to go to their home schools. Brown isn't happy with the choice. "I won't be in the band anymore. I would end up going to a new school as a nobody cause my name wouldn't be out there," says Brown. "I wouldn't have those three years behind me where I've built up myself." Brown and hundreds of other Harding parents and students wanted to know what's with the last minute change. "That really was based on a lot of input we received from the community and in particular our guiding principles around home schools," board chairman Eric Davis told the crowd. "I know that doesn't satisfy everyone, but that was the basic logic." The guiding principles the board adopted this summer emphasize home schools. Since Waddell is a home school, the district says closing Harding is more in keeping with those principles. And no, that didn't satisfy people. Harding parents and students called out the district for considering closing a school that performs well and, of course, for the late notice. "What I'm concerned with is the manner in which the message was given to us today," said one Harding mother. "I think we're all in agreement that there has to be more dialogue with the community being us because I don't know the community they're talking to." The district's initial school closing plan didn't leave Harding untouched. Under that plan, the math and science program would still go to Phillip O. Berry. That accounts for about one-third of Harding students. Harding would have received students from West Meck to relieve overcrowding there. And some students from Waddell would have then attended Harding as a home school. Last night, dozens of Waddell parents and students spoke up against closing Harding. "We had weeks to fight. We had weeks to stand up for ourselves. So I will speak for Harding because Harding was behind us," said a Waddell parent. "We need more time. They need more time." Waddell parent Gwendolyn Swindell left the meeting shaking her head, not knowing what to think about the district's latest plan to spare her daughter's school. "It's like they change their mind with the wind. So they say it's off the chopping block, but is that really the case?" wondered Swindell. CMS is holding another forum focused on Harding tomorrow night at 6 p.m. in the school's gym. The school board plans to vote on school closings on November 9th.