New Alleghany Highlands Public Schools division takes another step forward

(WDBJ7 photo)
Published: May. 31, 2022 at 2:49 PM EDT
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ALLEGHANY COUNTY, Va. (WDBJ/Alleghany County Public Schools Release) - The Joint School Services Committee, which created the plan that will lead to the merger of Alleghany County Public Schools, Covington City Public Schools and Jackson River Technical Center, has “essentially passed the baton to the joint school board,” according to Alleghany County Public Schools (ACPS).

The Joint School Services Committee laid final groundwork for the transition to the joint school board at a May 19 meeting. The two school divisions and Jackson River will consolidate on July 1, and create Alleghany Highlands Public Schools.

Alleghany Highlands Public Schools will be funded by Alleghany County and the City of Covington, according to ACPS. The school division will be governed by a seven-member school board with four members from Alleghany County and three from Covington, based on an agreement approved by both local school boards and municipalities.

The joint committee was approved in 2019 by the Alleghany County and Covington school boards, along with the Alleghany County Board of Supervisors and Covington City Council. The movement toward merging the two divisions was prompted by concerns in both divisions about declining enrollment and the recognition of potential advantages of pooling resources, according to ACPS.

“This has not been easy, and I think all of us who participated on this know that,” said Jonathan Arritt, vice chairman of the Covington City School Board and co-chairman of the Joint School Services Committee.

“There is a lot to be hopeful for,” Arritt said. “Despite the knowledge that there will be issues that come up, we are prepared for that fact. But I remain optimistic.”

Matt Garten, left, chairman of the Alleghany County Board of Supervisors, makes comments at a...
Matt Garten, left, chairman of the Alleghany County Board of Supervisors, makes comments at a recent Joint School Services Committee meeting as County Administrator Reid Walters looks on. The committee developed the plan that will merge Alleghany County Public Schools, Covington City Public Schools, and Jackson River Technical Center July 1.(Alleghany County Public Schools)

County and city students will be merged into a single student body of about 2,700 students at the beginning of the 2023-2024 academic year, according to ACPS. The four existing county and city elementary schools will remain open, but the consolidated division will have a single middle school (in the current Covington High School building) and a single high school (in the current Alleghany High School building).

Public hearings were held in both localities in September 2020, and a proposal to combine the two divisions under a single school board and superintendent was formally presented to the state Board of Education in November. The Alleghany County Board of Supervisors and the Covington City Council adopted resolutions endorsing the merger before it was submitted to the state. The Board of Education approved the merger plan in January 2021.

“We have been talking about this on some level my entire lifetime, and it is amazing to arrive at this moment. A lot of great thoughts have been shared, and our local governing bodies have worked together in a very cooperative way.  I really appreciate the hard work on behalf of our kids and the community from all involved,” said Alleghany County Public Schools Superintendent Kim Halterman, who graduated from AHS as valedictorian in 1997.

This is the first consolidation of school divisions to be approved in the Commonwealth of Virginia since 2014, and only the third consolidation to occur since 1982.

“I commend all of you for the great job you’ve done coming together. This is an historic moment for Alleghany Highlands Public Schools, and it’s an exciting time going forward,” said Dennis Witt, a former Halifax County Public Schools superintendent who served as a consultant to the committee.

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