INSIDERS: Gadsden County students prepare for new high school

Gadsden County students prepare for new high school
Gadsden County students prepare for new high school
Posted at 6:23 PM, Jul 17, 2017
and last updated 2017-12-13 05:23:57-05

GADSDEN COUNTY, Fla. (WTXL) - Next month, high school students in Gadsden County will start classes at the new consolidated high school.

At one point, the county had four high schools. But after the school board voted in April to reconfigure the district, it's down to just one.

The Gadsden County School District has been emphasizing a unified community: one vision, one Gadsden, as it goes through a significant year of change.

The branding behind Gadsden County High School has been decided, however the big question remains: what does the future hold for students and is there cause for concern with the transition?

In just a few weeks, students are back to hitting the books. But for high schoolers living in west Gadsden, it means a new school and new location.

West Gadsden High School will now be a middle school. Instead, students will learn at the new Gadsden County High School in Quincy.

"It's so close," said Robert Berry, a junior from Gretna. "It just should have always been one in the first place. I feel like they should've been did it."

In June, students from East and West Gadsden learned together for the first time at a summer program called "21st Century." The director said students were integrated and focused on education more than potential conflict.

"When you have a great leader, that trickles down," said Joanette Thomas, the program's director. "So, we really don't have any of that."

Still, some say while the summer may ease students into the transition, there might be tension in the fall.

"I think that there definitely is, because East and West Gadsden -- there have been beef over the years, so it's going to be some conflict," explained Mahkel Gordon, a sophomore from Midway.

Part of that conflict could be tied to the school board's decisions about the high school.

"Because they're coming to East Gadsden, and we're keeping the Jaguars, so I feel like it's going to be a couple fights," said Kiara Walls, a junior who's also from Midway.

The district says it stands by its decisions and is in the process of rebranding the high school.

"A large part of all of this is finance," said Roger Milton, Gadsden County's School Superintendent. "We're trying to make absolutely certain that we're being financially responsible."

"It's East Gadsden and West Gadsden, so we should've came up with another mascot to make it even," Walls asserted.

As the school district and students prepare for the transition, some aren't even going to the high school. That's because their parents have taken matters into their own hands.

"The amount of time these kids are going to spend on these buses greatly increases the risks and dangers for them," said Clifford Kinch, a high school parent from Hardaway.

Clifford Kinch says he worries about his daughter Savannah's safety at school. The sophomore has cerebral palsy and one time, she was badly injured on the bus when the driver failed to strap her in.

"After that, I didn't really trust the buses anymore," said Savannah. "They couldn't take me home, so I had to ride it anyways."

Her parents have decided to homeschool her, instead of putting her on a bus that would travel about 20 miles from home. Her 20-year-old brother will now be largely responsible for her education.

"He is changing his life in order to accommodate hers," said Kinch. "It's a family sacrifice, but I feel that it's an unnecessary sacrifice if the schools would just do what the public wants."

The Kinch family says it personally knows of 26 students who are being pulled from Gadsden County schools this fall. Despite passionate opposition to consolidation, the reality is Gadsden County High School will be the plan going forward.

Students say they're optimistic.

"I'm prepared for it," La'Resha Milton, a senior from Midway, said. "At first, I wasn't, but now, I think about all the benefits we're going to have, and I'm ready for it."

"I'm hoping that everyone comes together as one, and we'll have a great school year," said Gordon.

The first day of classes at Gadsden County High School is Monday, August 14th. The district has hired a new principal and is working on incorporating colors from both East and West Gadsden when it comes to athletics.