Blue and yellow were the most prominent colors in the Fort Lewis Elementary gym on Wednesday night as parents, teachers and community members donned “Save Fort Lewis Elementary” t-shirts and gathered for a community meeting to show their ‘Lion Pride’ and support for the school, which could soon face closure.
“I cannot stress enough that tonight is a community meeting…to listen to you, and there is no plan. There is no plan,” said David Wymer, Catawba District school board representative. “Fort Lewis has been closed before. And reopened. That is not my intention,” he said.
The resounding questions of the night were, “Why Fort Lewis?” and “How can we save Fort Lewis?”
As of Friday, Sept. 21, enrollment numbers at Fort Lewis Elementary were up to 235, according to Chuck Lionberger of Roanoke County Public Schools. Parents expressed concerns, should Fort Lewis close, about a potential raise in the pupil-to-teacher ratio, the effects a modular learning environment might have on the students, longer commutes on the buses and overcrowding in Glenvar and Masons Cove Elementary Schools, among other issues.
Britnie Carpenter, mother to a special needs child at Fort Lewis, has seen a marked improvement in her daughter’s progress after moving her to Fort Lewis from another school in Roanoke County. Carpenter says her daughter can now read and form sentences.
“You’re talking about shutting down the best thing that’s ever happened to [my daughter],” said an impassioned and emotional Carpenter. “These are not numbers and statistics, they are our children,” she said, to enthusiastic applause from her fellow parents and community members.
The great work of the teachers and administrators at Fort Lewis is pretty clear, according to one Fort Lewis mother and Glenvar High School teacher. “Twenty five percent of the students give us 80 percent of our valedictorians,” she said of Fort Lewis alumni who go on to succeed at the high school level.
Dr. Lorraine Lange, superintendent of Roanoke County Public Schools, stressed the importance of contacting legislators. “You need to write your representatives and tell them they need to balance the budget without using sequestration money,” Lange said.
After the meeting, commenters thanked those who showed up Wednesday night on the “Save Fort Lewis Elementary!” Facebook group’s page.
“Thanks to everyone who came out to support Fort Lewis tonight! We had a really good turn-out and great questions from parents and concerned community members,” Stephan G. Michael, the group’s administrator, posted.
“We are a passionate community,” said Fort Lewis parent Kelly Saunders.
“By the end of February or the first of March, we should have an idea what the revenue looks like,” said Wymer. A decision about the fate of Fort Lewis should be made around that time, according to Wymer.