As the 50 or so citizens filed out of the meeting room at Marshall Early Learning Center on Tuesday evening, Shaun Stoble shook his head in disappointment.
The Newport News School Board had just adjourned its special meeting on Huntington Middle School.
“This meeting should have been packed — standing room only,” Stoble said. “People should have been lined up out in the hallway. There is not a more important to the Southeast Community than what’s going on with our school. People need to see that these other issues they’re talking about — crime, poverty — they all begin with education and at our school.”
Tuesday’s was another emotional discussion about the fate of Huntington, a historic school with proud roots in the African-American community during segregation. The school, which closed at the end of the 2017-18 school year, is in a bad state of disrepair and the plans for a new one remain a source of debate.
Currently students who live in the Huntington zone are spread out among Heritage High School and Crittenden and Hines middle schools. Plans for the 2020-21 school year could expand to bring Newsome Park Elementary into the mix.
The discussion Tuesday focused on which options would be most convenient and secure for the sixth- through eighth-grade students in the Southeast Community, as well as keeping alive the legacy of a cherished school.
Eighth-grader Nevaeh Robinson told the board that, as a Huntington student attending Crittenden, she doesn’t feel like she fits in with the other students. Lecia Norales identified herself as “grandmother of 12” and talked about how emotional she gets upon seeing young children making longer trips to school in the rain while their neighborhood school sits empty.
“Huntington is not just a school,” Norales said. “It’s a safe haven for students, for parents, for teachers.”
Before the meeting adjourned, board member John Eley III reminded the crowd that the School Board has approved plans related to Huntington but that the City Council has yet to approve the $50 million in funding.
“We call and we beg and we plead,” Eley said, “and we still just don’t know.”
Several other board members echoed Eley’s sentiments, laying the responsibility at the feet of council.
Newport News Mayor McKinley Price said the council is not causing an unnecessary delay. Rather, he said, the council is ensuring the best possible outcome for the students and their community.
“We’re planning a whole site and trying to pick the best location,” Price said. “That takes time.”
Price said he anticipates that “within a few meetings,” the council would approve a plan for Huntington that would leave people “elated with the long-term plans.”
James Brown, a passionate Huntington advocate who believes the city intentionally let the building get into an irreparable state (“it’s the assassination of a school”), said the children of the Southeast Community need to be a priority.
“The kids need to be in a place where they feel safe,” Brown said. “They need that sense of stability. You can’t succeed if you don’t feel comfortable where you are. We need to get this done and give them that sense of stability in their neighborhood school.”
Mike Holtzclaw, 757-928-6479, firstname.lastname@example.org