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Wednesday, April 24, 2024

Archer parents worry about transparency, inclusion in Newberry Education First initiative

Many parents share concerns about being left out from board conversations

Newberry High School pictured on Sunday, Feb. 25, 2024.
Newberry High School pictured on Sunday, Feb. 25, 2024.

About 100 people packed into the Archer Community Center Thursday night at the Newberry Education First community meeting to learn about the initiative to turn Newberry schools into public charters. 

Under the guidance of community leaders, the Newberry Education First initiative will change the schools in Newberry to public charter schools. Parents came together to plan and hire experts to create the initiative. In April, parents and teachers will vote on the conversion. 

Students within the city limits of Archer will be affected should the charter initiative be passed. Archer has its own elementary school, Archer Elementary, but older students attend school in Newberry at Oakview Middle and Newberry High.  

At the meeting, Archer Mayor Iris Bailey greeted the community and Education First Newberry board member Joel Searby. Bailey didn’t have the chance to attend the organization’s previous community meeting in Newberry Feb. 23.

“Hopefully this will be very informative for all of us, and we can move forward and figure out which side we stand for,” she said. 

The vice mayor, Kathy Penny, attended the first community meeting hosted by Education First for Newberry and urged the audience to pay attention to all the details so they could make informed votes in April. 

“I don’t have any kids, but I have nieces and nephews that attend Archer and I want to know how this is going to affect them,” Penny said. “So all of us have a fish in this pond.” 

Searby then started his presentation with a speech about how special the city of Archer is to him. 

“All three of my children attended Archer Elementary. My address is Archer,” he said. “I shop at the Save-A-Lot and my kids get their books at the Archer library.” 

Searby presented his slides, which can be found on the Yes Newberry website, and explained the issues the public charter hopes to fix. 

He understands the criticism from parents about the planning for the meetings, which seemed to have happened in secret. However, the board believed it would be “unwise” and “unfair” to suggest “dramatic changes” without the proper research. 

“We choose to try to get all that information together and then to submit the request letters,” Searby said. “And now we have this 60-day window to help everyone get educated.” 

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At the meeting, Searby announced the board wants to implement an advisory board where parents can share concerns. The board proposes the city of Archer will have two seats, five seats for Newberry and two seats for families outside of either city’s boundaries. The members of the advisory board would be nominated by the community. 

“That is us responding to the concerns we’ve heard,” he said.

After the presentation, concerned parents came to the podium to ask questions and share concerns with Searby. 

Paul Dominguez, a parent to a student at Archer Elementary and a student at Oakview Middle, shared concerns for rural families and how more parents can get involved with the initiative. 

“There’s three board members, which will make the decisions and these advisory boards can only give advice. At the end of the day it’s these three people who will choose what will happen to our children,” he said. 

Holly Blumenthal, a parent to a child at Newberry High, wondered who would negotiate contracts for employment and other school materials; and she shared she felt meetings were held in secret. 

“It disingenuous to state that, ‘Oh, we had to do it this way because the state law triggers the vote,’” she said. “You could have come with a plan.” 

Melonie Stanton, a parent to kids at Archer Elementary and Oakview Middle, worried about neighborhoods on Archer road being included in the initiative.

The current plan states all students zoned for Oakview Middle and Newberry High will automatically be allowed to attend the charter. However, the plan also stipulates the “zone” for the initiative will spread six to nine miles outside of the planned geographic area until the schools hit capacity. 

“I’m trying to figure out exactly which Archer kids are included and which Archer kids are not included. Because I know the kids in my neighborhood are not going to be included unless the geographic radius gets a lot bigger,” Stanton said. 

Contact Megan Howard at Follow her on X @meganmhxward.

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Megan Howard

Megan Howard is a second-year journalism major and the K-12 Education reporter for The Alligator. When she's not writing, you can find her rewatching the Eras Tour movie or reading The Hunger Games series.

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