I am impressed with Mark Hopkins resume, and his personal investment in his family and school. I am also impressed his fellow educators and parents over the years have told him how wonderful the Clover school system has been. Like most residents, I recognize and salute those achievements. Like most, I do not want to see that changed.
However, national organizations (Harvard, Stanford, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, but not the Clover School Board) have conducted in-depth studies proving a student’s education, performance and well-being deteriorates when high schools are larger than 1,500-1,800 students. School systems as large and as close as Charlotte have chosen to split up existing large high schools and set goals of maintaining small community-oriented high schools. Those are researchable facts. If Mr. Hopkins interprets those facts as “intended to create division and competition when it comes to the education of our children,” then I’m sure he has his reasons.
Mr. Hopkins wrote (in a letter in the July 22 Lake Wylie Pilot) “the erroneous assertion that CHS will become a “super(sized) high school” is anything but erroneous. The South Carolina definition of a high school is ninth to 12th grades. The ninth grade academy is 39 feet from the main building with connected covered walkways. The ninth-graders will share school buses, clubs, auditorium, athletic fields and the Applied Technology Center with the 10th-, 11th-, and 12th-graders. In inclement weather, the ninth-graders will go through the main building to reach the technology center. THAT constitutes a high school.
Only about 7 percent of S.C. high schools are larger than 2,000 students. CHS will house 3,400 students, more than many universities. THAT constitutes a super-sized high school. Mr. Hopkins definition differs from mine and 99 percent of all other school districts in South Carolina.
Like many of us in the community, Mr. Hopkins may have heard the administration say “There will never be that many (3,400) students on the campus.” Then, one might ask, why are we building to that capacity? Or Mr. Hopkins may have heard school board Chairman Mack McCarter when asked what consideration the board gave to super-sized high schools emphatically state, “I don’t care about those studies. I know what’s best for Clover!”
Rethinking the bond referendum
Mr. Hopkins states “The $67 million referendum that will provide a new elementary school, a new middle school, a renovated ninth grade academy, a new aquatics center, and needed improvements to existing facilities is $33 million less than the cost of York High School alone.” Really?
He forgot to add the $32 million in taxpayer dollar savings that will be added to the new $67 million bond referendum. The total projected cost is $99 million. Mr. Hopkins did not include math on his resume.
In fact, the cost of the York High School and the Clover project is virtually identical. In addition to a NEW high school, York’s project includes a NEW Applied Technical Center, a NEW football stadium, NEW state-of-the-art baseball, track, soccer fields and a tennis court as part of the deal.
He also made much of the fact the York number does not include annual operating costs. Let me point out that neither does the Clover numbers.
Mr. Hopkins considers these reported facts as “intended to create division and competition between our communities.” In his “experienced” opinion, questioning the “solid decision-making that has come to define our district’s leadership” is “short-sighted, uninformed and dangerously selfish.” As an employee of that district, of course he must follow the board’s leadership. I, however, am not under any such obligation. The board members and their advisers are ordinary human beings capable of making wrong-headed judgments.
A few inconvenient details
Lake Wylie now comprises the majority of the school population. The demographic changes taking place will likely have 75 percent to 80 percent of the student population coming from Lake Wylie before any evaluation of another high school takes place. Inevitably, a new school will be built at a much higher cost, and what then will we do with the expensive renovations?
The bottom line is the Clover School District could have a brand new high school of acceptable size in Lake Wylie for about the same cost as we are misapplying to the current Clover High School campus. It would eliminate the 16-25 mile round trip Lake Wylie students now have to make daily. Double that for those involved in extracurricular activities. Most importantly, it would avoid the inevitable and historically proven decline in education quality, student well-being and community cohesiveness that super sized high schools generate. Students from both communities would benefit from attending smaller, community-based high schools.
As parents and taxpayers, it is not only our right but our responsibility to question the school board decisions that affect us, our parents and their students on a daily basis, and on the most fundamental and far-reaching levels. To do so is NOT “short-sighted, uninformed and dangerously selfish.” It is absolutely necessary. The “only requiem I fear” is that we do not.
Margarett Blackwell is a Lake Wylie resident.