JULIAN D. WATERS for SCHOOL BOARD
At recent meetings, the Albemarle County School Board has discussed the possible closure of Benjamin Franklin Yancey Elementary School. This discussion once again brought into the spotlight the critical role that local schools play in our community.
Certain discussion has revolved around the argument of ‘throwing money at Yancey’ in order to offer a solution to the school’s academic and other struggles. At the most recent board meeting on May 11th, comparisons were drawn between Yancey and Greer elementary, with Greer having a similar makeup of disadvantaged students (Students who receive free and reduced lunch) but, compared to Yancey, is in better academic standing. However, in recent years Greer has received over fifty school improvement projects whereas Yancey has received none. Yancey has struggled to fix a failing septic system and the building itself is outdated. Money being invested into Yancey is not sufficient to provide the school with the modernization opportunities that have been afforded to Greer and other elementary schools. In my opinion, this does not at all reflect the sentiment of ‘throwing money’ at Yancey, and it seems that there is still substantial room for improvement.
Furthermore, closing Yancey establishes a dangerous precedent that threatens other rural schools, such as Red Hill, Scottsville, and other schools with declining enrollment. Closing Yancey based on the premise of the school itself being ‘too small’ is a flawed solution. Because the entire lower region is out of the strategic development area as outlined by the Board of Supervisors and the Planning Commission, continuing population decline will likely be reflected by declining enrollment at any elementary school outside of the designated development areas. Should the board decide to close Yancey, how long will it be until we begin to examine the future of other schools? Opening this door threatens the existence of not just Yancey, but any rural neighborhood school in the district.
Aside from these reasons, there is common sense in keeping Yancey open as well. Geographically, Yancey is located more centrally to the lower region of the county than Scottsville Elementary, the next closest Elementary school. This means that transportation to and from Yancey by bus and for parents and staff is better distributed, and average transit times for both would likely be shorter. We also need to face the fact that closing Yancey would do nothing to address the declining population in the area. Closing Yancey as a result of declining enrollment and funding would not be a solution, but an unfortunate and unnecessary byproduct. It would be more fruitful to find ways to encourage development in the Esmont community, leading to an increased population and greater investment in the surrounding area.
As as student, I was fortunate enough to attend Meriwether Lewis Elementary, just a few short minutes away from my neighborhood. To me and countless others, Meriwether was more than just a school. It was soccer practice, and family trips to the playground on the weekends. It was ‘kids night out’ and pumpkin carving. It was a true part of our community. Schools like Yancey, though small, are incredibly important to the communities they serve. They serve not only to teach, but to help grow and foster the neighborhoods and families around them. For Yancey, a school which hosts numerous community events and has become a neighborhood landmark, this importance is even greater.
Yancey represents an important piece of heritage, not only to Esmont but to Albemarle County as a whole. Every day it stands as an inspiration to students, to parents, to teachers, and to community members, and as a reminder of the immense positive impact that a passionate individual can have. Benjamin Franklin Yancey, for whom the school is named, worked tirelessly in the Esmont area to provide opportunities to students. Benjamin Yancey’s legacy is one of fighting hard to provide for those in his community, a legacy that endures now in Yancey Elementary School. It is my hope that the board can understand the importance of Yancey as more than just a place of education and explore alternative solutions to encourage growth and keep Yancey around for future generations of students, teachers, families, and the community.