UNC report focuses on schools in Halifax County

Posted May 9, 2011 4:00 a.m. EDT
Updated May 9, 2011 6:36 p.m. EDT


— A report on the state of public education in Halifax County recommends merging the economically distressed area's three school districts into one as a "significant first step" to ensuring all children receive the same quality of education.

The three districts – Halifax County Public Schools, Weldon City Schools and Roanoke Rapids Graded School District – serve approximately 8,000 students but remain among the most segregated in the state, according to the yearlong study, released Monday by the University of North Carolina Center for Civil Rights.

"Halifax County cannot meaningfully address the educational disparities within its borders without first dissolving the district boundaries that have served since their inception to entitle whites and oppress blacks in the community," the report says.

In a county that is 39 percent white overall, nearly 100 percent of students at Halifax County Public Schools and Weldon City Schools are non-white, while Roanoke Rapids Graded School District is more than 70 percent white.

The former districts have some of the lowest-performing schools in the state and highest teacher turnover rates, the report says.

"The Roanoke Rapids City School District is predominately white, and the offerings there are way more than what these other two school districts receive," said Gary Grant, director of Concerned Citizens of Tillery, a community group that pushed for the report.

Schools in Halifax County have struggled for years with low-performing schools and financial issues. In 2009 Superior Court Judge Howard Manning asked the state to get involved to help improve test scores.

According to the UNC report, by unifying the three districts, the county would be able to better attract and retain high-quality teachers and "create an environment conducive to true education reform by addressing old racial tensions and providing opportunities for meaningful integration and cultural responsiveness within the county's schools."

Weldon City Schools officials declined to comment Monday, saying they wanted to examine the report more closely.

Keith Hoggard, a spokesman for Halifax County Schools, however, said the district hopes county commissioners will carefully consider UNC's recommendation.

"The status quo clearly isn't working, and consolidating the three school systems could be a good situation," Hoggard said.

Dennis Sawyer, superintendent for Roanoke Rapids Graded School District, declined to comment on the report, saying district unification is a political issue, not a policy issue.

"As the current superintendent," he said, "my responsibility is to work within the governance structure that is currently in place to provide a high-quality education for students."