Petersburg School Board votes to close Peabody M.S.

UPDATE: The Petersburg School board Wednesday night voted to move students and staff at Peabody Middle School to Vernon Johns Jr. High. The move will go into effect at the start of the 2017-18 school year.

After the board meeting, Petersburg School Board officials called out Petersburg City Council asking for financial support to keep schools open.

Officials say repairs to Peabody Middle School would have cost more than $50 million and the funds are not available to invest in the infrastructure.

The school board also approved a $78M capital improvement plan to repair all schools.

Superintendent Marcus Newsome told 8News it’s an urgent investment that they’re calling on Petersburg City Council members to help fund.

“This city needs to reinvest,” Dr. Newsome said. “The reason that we moved out of Peabody is because over the years the investment was not there. My hope is that we don’t find ourselves in this place a few years from now having to close other schools because we weren’t able to keep them up.”


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PETERSBURG, Va (WRIC) — Superintendent Marcus Newsome of Petersburg Public Schools has submitted a proposal to transition Peabody Middle School students to the Vernon Johns Jr. High School building.

Peabody Middle School was originally built in 1952. Additions were made the building in 1965, 1968, and 1970. Construction began on the Vernon Johns school in 1972. The building was upgraded in 2000. A comparison of repair costs for both buildings indicate a potential cost saving.

Repair costs were $17,059 in 2016 for Peabody Middle and $7,300 for the Vernon Johns building. Utility costs for Peabody in the year 2016 were $175,907.17 and for the Vernon Johns building $156,413.73.

The Vernon Johns Jr. High School’s student capacity is 750 students. According to enrollment projections, Peabody student enrollment would total 732 for the 2017- 2017 school year.

According to the proposal, the Vernon Johns building is better suited for teaching and learning. A part of the rationale is the building supports modern learning, enhances digital literacy and promotes civic responsibility.

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It is also believed the facility would allow for improved collaboration between faculty and students. Transitioning students into the facility is expected to also increase access to high school courses and more efficient use of FTEs.

Other benefits according to the report include:

  • Increased number of students in advanced and future dual enrollment courses
  • Flexible classrooms for student-centered learning and differentiated instruction
  • Participation in athletic programs
  • ADA Accessible
  • Safety and security
  • Improved classroom designs

Until the current school year, the Vernon Johns building served as a junior high for grades 8 and 9. The Petersburg School Board voted in March 2016, effective with the beginning of the 2016-17 school year, to close the junior high, move ninth-graders to Petersburg High School and establish grades 6-8 at Peabody Middle School.

Some parents and former Petersurg educators say they think the proposal is a good idea.

“Me personally I think Vernon Johns was a better school than Peabody. I want to say because of location and it is in a safer community,” said Shawntae Maple.

“It needs a lot of alterations done to it. You know as of right now the city they don’t have the money to put into the school right now so the superintendent is doing the best that he can,” said Virgil Revish.

The Petersburg School Board will hold a public engagement session to discuss moving middle school students and staff from Peabody to Vernon Johns for the 2017-18 school year at 5:30 p.m. on Feb. 9 in the cafeteria of the Vernon Johns building located at 3101 Homestead Drive. People who cannot attend the public engagement session can send their ideas or concerns via email to info@petersburg.k12.va.us by Feb. 9.

The school board will also hold a public hearing about the move at 6 p.m. on Feb. 15 in the school board meeting room of the Petersburg City Public Schools administrative offices located at 255 South Boulevard East.

If approved, the transition from the Peabody building would happen at the beginning of the 2017-18 school year.

This is a developing story. Stay with 8News online and on air for the latest updates.

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