Today as I read the outstanding start of what will be a series of stories, columns and editorials in the Times-News examining the $150 million school bond issue, I was struck by a sentence in an Opinion page column by Rich Jackson, the executive editor and someone I’ve come to know a little over the past 11 months since he arrived in Burlington. Rich was writing about the series — which will keep reporter Jessica Williams busy for the next few months. He also noted a public forum the Times-News is sponsoring at 7 p.m. on Thursday at the Kernodle Senior Center, the need for the public to stay informed about this critical vote and one sentence about the condition of Alamance County’s schools.
The last one struck me. When I was in Rich’s job from 2007-2016 I wrote a few times that Cummings High School was the most recently constructed high school in the county. It opened in 1970. Rich offered something in his column I had not. Sunday he wrote:
The newest high school is Cummings High School, and it’s 48 years old. I’m 52 years old and I certainly don’t feel new.
That made me stop and think a bit. I’m 58, which makes me 10 years older than Alamance County’s most recently constructed high school. At age 58 I look pretty run down, sag in all the wrong places and have to go in for maintenance much more often than I used to. My plumbing doesn’t work all that great anymore and no amount of renovation can make it a whole lot better. My memory is shot, the infrastructure is in decline and my batteries are starting to go. Not one thing can be done to make me even 20 years old again. Yeah, I’m old and I feel it every single day.
I realize no straight line can be drawn in this comparison. Structures aren’t living, breathing organisms. But the point is that time erodes absolutely everything. It doesn’t pick and choose. The process is relentless and we all should be aware of it. Fighting time is embarking on an unwinnable battle — and in many cases the victims are those trapped in a vicious cycle not of their making. The county has dozens of aging schools far older than Cummings that are in need of major renovation, repair or replacement. County leaders have kicked this can down the road for too many decades to count. The time to act is at hand. These buildings aren’t getting younger or better and today’s students are paying the price for it. The community will pay that price later — and arguably is already.
I’m glad the Times-News is taking a leadership role today and in the coming months on this issue. Rich believes and I agree that this is a critical year for Alamance County education and by extension the community’s prosperity for years to come. People need to take a hard look at education needs, the bond and elections of responsible and forward-thinking leaders on the county Board of Commissioners.
Take a look at the first story in the education series by Jessica Williams. It’s an eye-opening look at student success and poverty rates in individual schools. Read ABSS: School grades show poverty, no proficiency.
And in case you missed it, also read a column about education in Alamance County written by recently retired Elon University president and now president emeritus Leo Lambert.
Here’s a screenshot of the graphic that accompanies Jessica’s story online and in the print edition of the Times-News. The story also includes a video. I salute Jessica on her outstanding work and look forward to reading the rest of the series. And a salute, too, to the Times-News for scheduling a Town Hall meeting at 7 p.m. Thursday March 8 at the Kernodle Senior Center. People with an interest not only in education but in the future of all of Alamance County should try to be there.