Community says 'no' to student transfers

Community voice opposition to student transfers

There was a full-house at the St. Clair County Board of Education special called meeting and work session last Thursday night in the Steele School auditorium.

STEELE – The community of Steele made its position clear last Thursday night – it does not want seventh- and eighth-grade students transferred to Ashville Middle School. 

“I came from Ashville,” said Chris Brenner. “I want them (my children) to graduate here, not somewhere else.”

Brenner was one of many community students, parents and grandparents who attended a special called meeting and work session at Steele School last Thursday night, as the school board unveiled plans and opened discussions about possibly moving seventh- and eighth-grade students from Steele Middle School to Ashville Middle School. 

“What’s next, fifth and sixth grades?” asked Kim Gilbert. “This community loves this school.”

Brandon Crawford said his family moved from Jefferson County to Steele – because of the schools.

“It was like heaven, if you look at what this school does,” Crawford said. “In my opinion, you are taking a gamble.” 

There have been generations of families who have walked the halls of Steele School. 

“I have been in Steele all my life,” said Sandra Holliday. “My great-grandchildren go here. We want to keep this school like it is.”

School officials said moving seventh- and eighth-grade students to Ashville Middle could help afford more academic and extracurricular activities for students – and at a lower cost. 

But parents said what is on paper doesn’t always present a true picture, and sometimes what is best for students is not always best on the bottom financial line. 

“Figure out a way to keep our kids here,” Holliday told the board.

Gilbert added Ashville is already experiencing overcrowding.

“Ashville is not big enough, and everybody knows it,” Gilbert said. “How much is it going to cost for the trailers?”

Student numbers for Steele Middle are low -- 15 in seventh grade and 16 in eighth grade.

But state Rep. Craig Lipscomb (R-Gadsden) said enrollment could increase and fairly quickly. 

“The reality is this is important to the city of Steele, because it is so important to you,” Lipscomb told the crowd that attended the meeting and work session. 

Lipscomb told board members he only wanted to make them aware there is an economic development project just across the county line in Etowah County, the Little Canoe Creek Mega-Site. 

The 1,000 acre industrial development site is on the Norfolk Southern main railway line, and plans are underway for a $2.7 million site improvement project funded through the state’s Growing Alabama Credit program. 

Lipscomb said officials are working hard to develop and fill the site, which means jobs and more families moving into the area.

“There is potential for significant growth in Steele,” he told the board. 

The board has not made up its mind whether to move forward with a plan to move students from Steele Middle to Ashville Middle. 

“There is not a person up here or in this crowd who doesn’t want the best for those seventh- and eighth-graders,” said Superintendent Mike Howard. 

Board President Scott Suttle said the board will evaluate all the information before making a decision.

“I greatly appreciate the passion of the people here,” Suttle told those in attendance. “I can assure you, this is not a decision taken lightly.”

Ashville Middle School is about 8.5 miles from Steele School.

The next regularly scheduled St. Clair County Board of Education meeting will be at 6 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 18, at the Odenville Middle School Auditorium.