NEW HANOVER COUNTY — The New Hanover County school board moved to discuss the fate of New Hanover County’s Career Readiness Academy at Mosley on Tuesday after the district surprised board members, along with students, with an announcement of the school’s closure last week.
On Friday, parents received a letter stating the “high school program at the Career Readiness Academy at Mosley will end” after the 2023-2024 school year. The enrolled students will need to transfer to their districted high school or a specialty program at those schools.
According to the district, the closure is a result of low enrollment in the program and the cease of funding for the program. According to Chief Financial Officer Ashley Sutton, one of the grants funding the program, worth $350,000, is ending.
Fifty-two students will be affected by the closure, several of whom spoke in front of the board on Tuesday.
“For many of us, CRA is not just a place of study, it is our second home,” student Gerald Chavez said, fighting back tears.
The students lauded the Career Readiness Academy’s small size and expressed appreciation for the one-on-one time their teachers could spend with them, or the adaptive learning environment that helped them learn in their own ways. They feared they would not get that same experience at one of the district’s four high schools.
Parent Rachel Hladik, whose student has ADHD and has struggled in other learning environments, also spoke out during the meeting’s public comment.
“My student is not a behavior problem, but he is not gifted, and he will not get the attention he needs to prosper,” Hladik said.
However, the district maintains confidence each student will find another school to fit their needs. The letter shows a series of events dedicated to helping students find a specialty program that works for them or information about transferring to their district school.
However, the school board wants to explore more options to accommodate the displaced students. Many of the board members said they were not aware the district was planning to shut down the academy.
“I did not know about this; I was not consulted and I made no vote,” board member Pat Bradford said on Tuesday.
Chief Academic Officer Patrice Faison apologized, saying she was unclear about Mosley’s high school program when she discussed the idea of a “newcomer school” at the board’s agenda review on Nov. 28.
The newcomer school would serve as a transition academy for students with English as a second language to accommodate the growing number of multilingual students in the district.
“[The CRA closure] has nothing to do with the newcomer school; that is still hypothetical and depending on a number of things,” Faison said Tuesday.
Faison told Port City Daily on Wednesday that Mosley “has been an underutilized space in our district for quite some time, and it’s been an ongoing conversation for years about what to do about it.”
In recent months, the school board has been discussing a 2024 school bond to fund critical infrastructure needs and expansions for its overcrowded schools. Although, a district-commissioned space utilization study shows certain schools are not at capacity, indicating the district could better space out students across its facilities.
Faison also said the district has tried to expand enrollment at Mosley to no avail. It currently has 63 high school students and 15 staff members, who will be offered other positions in NHCS.
Board chair Pete Wildeboer said he thought the plan for the school should have been brought before the board.
“I think we need to have a full plan before we start deciding to close schools and that kind of thing,” Wileboer said.
In a text to Port City Daily on Wednesday, former board chair Stephanie Kraybill said the board should be informed of major programming changes as, or preferably before, they occur.
“But we do not have to approve them unless there are budget implications, specifically spending more money,” Kraybill wrote. “The management of district programming falls under the purview of the Superintendent’s responsibilities.”
PCD asked the district why the board was not given more information on the closure and who approved it. District spokesperson Salvatore Cardella did not respond to these questions; when PCD followed up, the chief communications officer said:
“We have every intention to provide information where appropriate and to ensure that information is clear and accurate. We will not speculate. Once we confirm the information, we can provide it.”
Still, Kraybill said she didn’t want the school to close and was disappointed a freshman class was admitted to the school if the district knew the academy was not viable. She added the situation reminded her of when NHCS closed the all-Black Williston High School in 1968 amid school integration.
The classes of 1969 and 1970 were not able to graduate from the school they, and many of their family members, attended. It wasn’t until this year that those graduates were offered a legacy ceremony and the county acknowledged the detrimental effects of the closure.
“We’re going to have to just figure out what is best for the student population and I trust that the school system is going to do that,” Kraybill said on Tuesday.
The board voted to discuss the Mosley closure at its next work session in January.
“We also have to realize that it’s not about necessarily removing a program,” Assistant Superintendent of Support Services Julie Varnam said to the board on Tuesday. “It’s about understanding there’s a priority need or a more substantial need or an equally important need for students such as a newcomer school, such as students with extreme extensive, not expensive, but extensive disabilities that need programs. And we have to balance all of that. And those are really tough discussions.”
Reach journalist Brenna Flanagan at firstname.lastname@example.org.