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Gaston Parents Push To Keep Schools Open, Preserve Small Classes

Gaston County's York Chester Middle School.

York Chester Middle School is one of three schools the Gaston County School board would like to close in cost cutting effort. The Gaston County School board is looking at closing two schools in Gastonia and one in McAdenville to save nearly $1 million a year. They're old buildings with space to spare and they have small class sizes. Those smaller class sizes make them popular with parents. York Chester Middle is one of three schools up for closure. It has a beautiful, old gym with wood floors and super high ceilings. It could rival most high school gyms. The school's principal Mike Grimmer takes pride in it. "Now, let's check out the size of this room," says Grimmer as he walks through the school. Grimmer opens the door to a computer lab. Eighteen computers are set side by side and there's not much room between rows of desks. "This is not very big. That's part of the problemtoo many small classrooms," he says. That helps keep class sizes down to nineteen, twenty students here, slightly lower than the district's average. And it's one of the reasons Karen Turner wants York Chester to stay open. Her son is a seventh grader there. Karen Turner, parent of a York Chester student and opponent of closing the school, addresses her concerns to the school board. "We like our school," says Turner emphatically. Nearly all students at York Chester come from low-income homes. Turner says the small class sizes offer kids extra attention. "Their idea of full is overcrowded. And that's not the way it needs to be," she says. At a public hearing this week, parents from nearby Rhyne elementary and McAdenville elementary in the eastern part of the county told the school board the same thing. They like their teachers, their principals, and they really like the small classes. "When we moved to Gastonia over five years ago, we chose Rhyne district because of the school, the class sizes and its staff," said Allison King. "It's better to have less children so you can give more one-on-one instruction, more time," said Robin Pollard who has two children at McAdenville. "One of the selling points for McAdenville is that it has small schools with small class sizes," said Shannon White, a McAdenville parent. Gaston County Schools Superintendent Reeves McGlohon says if those schools close, students would go to neighboring schools that could easily handle the extra kids. "These particular schools were recommended to us by the Urban Institute at UNC Charlotte as schools who are under capacity, surrounded by other schools that are under capacity and are also among the oldest schools in the district, in need of the most repair," says McGlohon. He expects the district will save nearly $1 million a year by closing the three schools. Plus, he says the district won't have to spend the $20 million it would take to upgrade the buildings over the next seven years. That Urban Institute study also says the neighborhoods around these schools aren't likely to grow much over the next ten years. The school board expects to decide whether to close the schools at its board meeting on Tuesday. The plan calls for all teachers to be transferred along with their students.