A birthday celebration for Shadrack R. Marshall Middle School quickly turned into a rally to keep the Columbus school open amid looming budget cuts in the Muscogee County School District.
"There is a dark cloud over us," Principal Michael Forte told more than 50 children in Saturday school, as well as parents and supporters of the school with 327 students. "We understand that, but the storm does not last forever. My main concern is to make sure we take care of our children, period."
The gathering in the school cafeteria at 1830 Shepherd Drive came five days after the school district proposed closing Marshall and Edgewood Elementary School to save money in its fiscal 2014 budget facing a $40 million deficit. A public hearing is set for 6 p.m. Tuesday and Wednesday at Marshall and Edgewood, 3835 Forrest Road.
The birthday observance was organized by the Rev. Richard Jessie, an alumnus, who noted the rich history at the school. On May 11, 1958, the old Spencer High School building on 10th Avenue was named Shadrack R. Marshall Junior High after Spencer moved to the new Shepherd Drive location. Marshall moved to Shepherd Drive and kept its name in 1979 after the current Spencer building was completed on Victory Drive.
When it comes to closing schools, Jessie said people in the community need to ask why there isn't enough money to fund education. "What must we do to fund education adequately?" he asked.
Lena Bronson, the grandparent of a seventh grader, said she moved her grandson to Marshall from Rothschild to avoid bullying. She was saddened and hurt to learn the school is proposed for closing.
"I came over to this area because the principal and everybody are just great," Bronson said. "I'm fighting, praying and believing that everything will work out for the best for kids here."
Tiffani Stacy said she has no children in the school, but her niece and sister both attended Marshall. A resident of Elizabeth Canty Homes, Stacy said she was at the observance for other parents who work two jobs to support their families.
"It seems like every week there are more challenges going on," she said. "A lot of parents are low-income parents, and they don't have options. I'm legally blind, but I go out and represent parents in the community."
Stacy said she is opposed to closing the school.
"I don't think we need to be closing schools that are successful," she said, referring to the school making Adequate Yearly Progress for the last three years. "Marshall is not a failing school. If the only reason you have to close it is that it's underpopulated, I'd say take a step back and wait a minute. They are getting excellent results then the class size does matter."
Wakoko Studstill, a professor at Columbus State University, said she's concerned about the people in the area and where the children will go if the school is closed.
"Are you going to bus them around?" she asked. "I'm deeply concerned about that."