Marshall Middle students speak out against possible school closing

mrice@ledger-enquirer.comMay 14, 2013 

Amid all the grown-up talk about state budget cuts prompting the Muscogee County School District to consider closing schools, two Marshall Middle School Students spoke up during Tuesday night's public hearing.

Alexis McNall, a seventh-grader asked what would happen to her club that helped her win first place in digital photography at a state competition.

Then she asked what would happen to the students who participate in after-school sports when they are transferred to a school that's too far to walk home and their parents would have to leave work early to pick them up.

Then she asked why can't the district turn Marshall into a magnet academy to attract more students and fill up the building instead of closing it.

The crowd of about 100 in the school's cafeteria had plenty of questions.

Another successful student at Marshall, eighth-grader Aziaza Smith, gave a testimony to the impact the school has had on her.

She said she came to Marshall with "terrible behavior," but her teachers and principal Michael Forte helped turn her around.

Now, she is captain of the debate

team that finished in the top 10 in Georgia. She also won a trophy in a math team competition.

"I don't think I could have gotten that anywhere else," she said. "A lot of people hadn't taken the time to care. … It's really not right to close it down. The students are getting the love they need at this school."

Aziaza's mother, Typhne Brown, said when her family moved to Columbus from Washington, D.C., her two children in middle school were assigned to Veterans Memorial on the north side. But they were transferred to Marshall when Veterans didn't meet the state standard of Adequate Yearly Progress, she said.

Brown said she was "disgruntled" at first with that move because of the bad reputation of the school and neighborhood. Now, she feels her children attend an "excellent" school.

She praised Forte and the teachers for devoting their time.

"It took Dr. Forte to take an interest in her potential," Brown said. "It is rare to have teachers that really care. A lot of teachers in this district are there just to get the paycheck."

Brown wondered aloud whether the low enrollment at Marshall -- the lowest among MCSD's 12 middle schools -- would have happened if the school had the resources that others have in the district, such as foreign language courses and bleachers and lights on the football field.

"It shouldn't always be about the money when it comes down to our children," she said.

Rob Varner, the school board's chairman and District 5 representative, was the lone board member at the Marshall hearing, while others attended the Edgewood hearing.

"This is the worst dadgum decision that this school district has to make," Varner said about the proposed school closings. "The district is facing a long-term, systemic decline in funding. There is no way around this."

Melvin Blackwell, the MCSD student services chief, thanked the residents for attending, voicing their concerns and asking their questions. He said the information would be compiled and shared with all board members and district officials before the board votes on the final proposal Monday.

Public hearings

The last of the two public hearings about the proposed closing of Edgewood Elementary School and Marshall Middle School will be conducted today at 6 p.m.

• Edgewood cafeteria, 3835 Forrest Road.

• Marshall cafeteria, 1830 Shepherd Drive.

The Muscogee County School Board is scheduled to vote on the recommendation during Monday's 6 p.m. meeting in the Muscogee County Public Education Center, 2960 Macon Road.

For more information, contact Muscogee County School District communications director Valerie Fuller at or 706-748-2034.

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