After the tornado... Greene County Middle School closes the school year

After the tornado... Greene County Middle School closes the school year

New Bern, NC – Dr. Patrick Miller, the superintendent of Greene County Schools, was out of town on April 16th when he received a phone call.

"I received a telephone call from Glenn Dail who is the director of operations for Greene County Schools and he informed me that the middle school had been pretty much leveled."

Evaluation of the building indicated only 30% of the middle school was salvageable with the rest needing to be torn down and started from scratch. School was due to reconvene on the following Monday for four days before going into spring break. After getting a waiver from state officials for holding those four days of classes, that gave the Greene County School System two weeks to come up with a plan to get middle school students back into the classroom.

"We considered several scenarios, none of which was very feasible and what we settled on was running a split schedule at the high school in which the middle school students would come in the morning at 7:30 and run until lunch time and then the high school kids would come in around 1215 and run until 5."

Dr. Miller says that didn't entail too much difficulty for the high school they were operating on a block schedule and only had four classes daily, so instead of 90-minute classes they instead had 60 minute classes. The middle school was not on a block schedule and that meant something had to go given a 7-hour instructional day was being compressed into 5.

"What we did in the condensed day is we eliminated electives. All we taught during the time the middle school was in session was math, English, science and social studies, things like career and technical education classes, art, media and those types of things we did not have in the last five weeks of school."

Despite the disruption in their schedules, the middle schoolers appeared to come through without too much difficulty. End of grade tests in math and reading are required for 6th, 7th and 8th graders while 8th grade has an additional end of grade test in science and the early indication is the disruption didn't hinder progress in those areas.

"They finished approximately, the performance composite, and this is unofficial, the performance composite was 6 points greater than it was last year."

Now it's on to next year where the middle school students will go back to the middle school property but not into a permanent building which isn't currently being anticipated as being complete until Christmas 2012 at the earliest. The school's insurance will allow the leasing of a "modular campus" 42 units housing classrooms, administrative functions, media and dining facilities. That will enable the middle school to again offer its full spectrum of classes, and they'll utilize the modular campus all of next school year and at least half the following. One current worry is the extra expense that was involved in running the split schedule particularly with busses, which Miller says practically ran all day with the primary and elementary schools on a regular schedule and the middle school and high school either dismissing or opening at noon.

"Well, we're not exactly sure if insurance is going to cover the extra expenses for the busses. Otherwise, we'll present that claim to FEMA and hope they'll help us."

If neither of those options is available, Miller says they'd have to cover the extra expense from the fund balance from the school system's local current expense fund something which with cuts likely coming down when a state budget is enacted he hopes to avoid. Miller likes how everything played out and how everyone worked together to make a bad situation work as best it could. He thinks that probably came from the fact that, despite how bad it was, everyone knew it could've been worse.

"The main thing, and I guess the silver lining of this tragedy, is that none of our students or citizens were killed in Greene County, and some of our neighbors were not as fortunate, so no matter how bad you think you have it, there's somebody near by who has it worse, and I think everybody here has done a good job keeping that in perspective."

Dr. Patrick Miller is the superintendent of Greene County Schools. I'm George Olsen.