I am a strong supporter of all the public schools in Cabarrus County. I come from a family of educators. My dad was a teacher, principal and superintendent in Western North Carolina. My wife spent her career at Concord Middle School.
I taught at Long Elementary, served as assistant principal at Coltrane Webb, principal at Long Exceptional School and principal at Beverly Hills Elementary.
Our son attended R. Brown McAllister and graduated from Concord High. I consider all of these as community schools. To me, a community school is a school of any size that serves that community’s young people and that is supported and embraced as their school.
For sixty-five years, parents have been proud to send their children to Beverly Hills Elementary School. Parents would drive their young children by the school and tell them this was going to be their school soon. Generations passed through, and parents and grandparents now share their experiences about attending Beverly Hills. These stories are still being told today but we are in danger of destroying this legacy. At a time when many other long-time institutions have disappeared, it would be a shame for this community to lose this school.
Beverly Hills has always had great parental and community support, even from the start when the school land was purchased for just a few dollars in the early fifties. In the beginning years the school didn’t even have a cafeteria, so the parents prepared hot dogs in nearby homes and brought them to the school to feed the children. There was no library so parents raised small amounts of money and gradually built up the supply of books.
During my time as principal a very special parent, Cathy Feiselman, decided that the school grounds needed trees. She was ahead of her time as she realized that the trees not only beautified the campus, they were good for the environment. She designed a landscape plan and worked with her husband Charlie by tirelessly digging holes and planting those trees over a two-year period. The PTO pitched in by raising money to buy the trees and now, thirty years later, those trees are still adding beauty and shade at the school.
For years our playground consisted of just a large grassed area. This is where, in the late fifties, then Beverly Hills Principal Joe Fries played kick ball with his students. Sam Johnson, one of the founders of the Sports Center, came forward and decided we should build a playground. He led a group to build a first class playground that was not only a great asset to the school, but to the neighborhood too. There were personal and business donations, but basically the PTO supplied all the funds and parents supplied the labor. Those of us who followed Sam as our “construction superintendent” still share memories of those Saturdays and many weekday afternoons when we would work until dark. When the project was complete there was great excitement by the students and pride among the parents.
The donations and labor that went into the landscaping and playground were worth thousands of dollars and were provided by volunteers and parents at Beverly Hills. We know that today these expenses would be included in the budget for a new school and they should be. However, those efforts just show the commitment those folks had for their community school.
This same commitment and support exists today. I have been inspired by the enthusiastic and dedicated people who have come forward to support keeping Beverly Hills open. The “Save Our School” yard signs are spread throughout the entire community, including areas served by Coltrane-Webb and R. Brown McAllister. Hundreds have expressed their concern through emails, letters to the editor, postings on Facebook and attending Board of Education meetings. Newer residents have joined natives in this effort because they appreciate the value of good neighborhood schools. This is not an “us versus them” issue. This is about support for all of our public schools -- the new schools in the western part of our county, the older existing schools now enjoying new buildings, and the older schools that need new buildings.
Those of us who worked at, attended, or sent children and/or grandchildren to Beverly Hills are excited to see a new generation that now lives in our older neighborhoods and support community schools. Many living in these neighborhoods have looked on and supported the replacement of older buildings at Royal Oaks, Winecoff, A.T. Allen, Odell, Bethel and Harrisburg schools. We are very fortunate that we have both new residents and natives moving into our established neighborhoods. In fact, due to our location, diversified economy, quality of life and, most of all, our good schools, we have many younger adults who grew up in this community who choose to stay here to raise their children. Good schools are critical to maintaining this momentum.
To my knowledge, no one anticipated the plan to close Beverly Hills and send the students across I-85. For two years the students, parents and staff have faced uncertainty about the future. Some families have already given up and moved their children to private schools while teachers have transferred due to the unknown. That is sad and in my opinion unnecessary.
When the plan became known and the shock wore off, concerned citizens began to question the logic for the closure. They have heard a variety of reasons. One was that a boiler might fail. I happened to be working at Beverly Hills when a boiler did fail. Technicians quickly responded and worked long hours to replace the boiler. I think we all realize that HVAC systems have life cycles and if the old building were replaced with a new school it would obviously be equipped with a new system.
While there is a consensus that it would not be cost effective to remodel the existing building, another explanation given was that a new school could not be constructed on the same site. But when an unbiased architect was hired to look at the facts, it was concluded that, in fact, a new school could be built on the very site that has worked for over six decades. That plan included an option that would add capacity for approximately one hundred twenty-five more students.
Where do we go from here? The answer is not to immediately vacate a building that still functions. It is also not to send Beverly Hills students across I-85 to Royal Oaks. Royal Oaks has a beautiful new school with a fine staff, but when it was decided to replace that school there certainly was no discussion of permanently closing and moving students across I-85 and out of that community.
The long-term solution is to keep Beverly Hills open and quickly start developing plans to build a new, state-of-the-art school on the same centrally located site. Use the extra capacity now available at Royal Oaks to serve the Beverly Hills students only while construction is underway. This is the same concept used when Royal Oaks students were temporarily moved to Boger Elementary to accommodate construction. Yes, the inconvenience will require sacrifices but the benefits will be well worth it.
This is a difficult issue for the Board of Education and Cabarrus County Commissioners. They have been faced with the rapid growth of students and have responded with a combination of replacing old buildings and opening entirely new schools.
I applaud them for their efforts and thank them for their service. The good news is the interest in this issue shows that we have a community that appreciates its public school system, and that is why I believe citizens will support replacing the old buildings at Beverly Hills, Coltrane Webb and R. Brown McAllister with state-of-the-art schools.
I believe this is the right decision and the fair direction for the future of our great community. Let’s get on with it.
J. Scott Padgett was a principal at Beverly Hills for many years and served on Concord City Council and as mayor of Concord.