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Northampton schools to merge

JACKSON – Students attending Gaston Elementary and Gaston Middle schools will be learning together on the same campus starting with the upcoming 2021-2022 school year. The Northampton County Board of Education approved a proposal to restructure the two schools at their regular meeting here June 8.

The consolidated school, which will serve grades 1-8, will be called Gaston STEM Leadership Academy. It will be housed on the current Gaston Middle campus while pre-kindergarten and kindergarten students will remain at Gaston Elementary in the newer building.

The board was first presented with the consolidation proposal at their meeting in May, but they opted to table the decision until June.

A public hearing was held at Tuesday’s meeting, but no citizens chose to speak either for or against the merger.

Dr. Marjorie Edwards motioned to approve the decision, and Tony Burnette seconded. The vote passed unanimously in favor.

Northampton County Schools Superintendent Dr. Pamela Chamblee spoke to the News Herald about the change to Gaston STEM Leadership Academy.

“We are delighted to expand curriculum offerings to expose our students to more learning opportunities, project-based learning, field trips, and hands-on activities,” she explained.

A total of 151 students in grades 1-5 will be moved to join grades 6-8 at the new consolidated school.

The recommendation for consolidation was made using data from two feasibility studies, another NC Department of Public Instruction feasibility study, and short- and long-range planning data.

“After much discussion and review of the information,” Chamblee explained, “it was decided to consolidate these two schools in order to save the taxpayers money, to make better use of our physical buildings, and to provide students with more experiences and learning options.”

In addition to the learning benefits to students, Chamblee also noted that they expect to see cost savings in heating, air, maintenance, and custodial care with a reduced number of buildings in use. She also added that the vacant buildings could potentially be used as tutoring centers in the future, but no decision has been made yet by the Board of Education.

“Community members are supportive of us using the best information that we have to continue to do something positive for children, such as providing STEM and leadership exposure,” Chamblee stated.

With COVID on the decline, Chamblee said they want to provide students with a wide variety of educational opportunities such as visiting museums and colleges/universities, participating in robotics competitions, and attending art/drama performances and leadership seminars.

“I commend our Northampton team for having the foresight to ensure that we improve upon what our scholars will be receiving curriculum-wise in order to see high levels of student engagement and to prepare them for high school and their future,” she concluded.