Williston alumni, staff weigh in on potential change of school

WILMINGTON, NC (WWAY) — More than a century ago it was a freedmen school for blacks. The history of the Williston school runs deep in one Wilmington community as the history of the school can date back to the 1800’s.

Out of that era grew Williston Industrial and Senior High School. Then a controversial integration in 1968 closed down the school. Williston Middle School came out of that and for years it has been a topic of student redistricting and curriculum overhauls.

Once again, the school could change, and many in the community fear that it will take away the history, pride and the reputation of the school and its community.

January began with a bombshell to many Williston alumni.

January began with a bombshell to many Williston alumni. The New Hanover County School Board laid out an idea; change the middle school back to a high school.

Tonight for the first time, the public was able to talk in their own setting.

“There’s something dreadfully wrong with this picture,” said alum Margaret Brown.

Williston Middle School could turn back into a high school. School board members are looking to spread out the inner city school to places like Roland Grise and Holly Shelter.
Teachers worry students with specific needs will be forgotten.

“That’s my greatest concern where will those kids go,” asks Laura Butler a 7th Grade language arts teacher there at WMS.

Kenneth Chestnut, a Williston High alum, speaks at the forum. (WWAY/Andrew James)

It’s also no secret there is concern for the jobs of many educators there who do not have certifications for high school level educating.

“Everything thing is up to speculation I mean we’re at what week 4 now of a proposal so yeah everybody is kind of on edge about what’s going to happen,” said Bobby Garcia who has taught 8th grade science at WMS for 5 years.

This forum, organized by school staff, filled the middle school media center. Alums and those with a vested interest did not shy from bringing up the elephant in the room.

“The question I have in my mind is when we ever start moving students why is it that the black kids are the only ones that are moved,” asked Nick Rhodes who was a former school board member.

“I am really concered as one of your larger funding partners that we are really doing a diservice to all of our kids,” said New Hanover County Commission Chair Jonathon Barfield. “My first thought was, here we go again. We’re moving black kids because white don’t want there kids to be moved from their school of choice.”

School board Vice Chair David Wortman tells me changing Williston back to a high school would reduce the impacts of high school redistricting. He says making it an arts school makes sense given its location to downtown.

It’s something school officials do not plan to rush.

“I don’t anticipate anything next year, I want this process to be thorough,” said superintendent Dr. Tim Markley.

There was a resounding subject that was thrown around during the forum. It does not appear that every alumni or former staffer of the school is against seeing it return to a high school, however, seeing it become an arts school is not what they have in mind.

“The community is behind the creation of a vocational education program here at Williston if it has to change. So it will once again be the greatest school under the sun,” said alum Linda Pierce-Thomas.

School board members will meet next week. They may address the latest on the exploratory committee instructed to research the transition.

Categories: Local, New Hanover

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