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Closure is emotional for faculty

The mood was somber as faculty members at Thomson Middle School learned that the school would be closing at the end of this school year.

Shock was another emotion shared by some teachers. Such sentiments were shared by others within the community once news stories began informing residents of the school's closure.

The decision to close the middle school and move both sixth and seventh graders to Thomson-McDuffie Junior High School was made by school board members to save big money -- reportedly to the tune of between $250,000 and $300,000 a year. Budget shortfalls created the need to close Thomson Middle School.

TMS Principal Claude Powell, who has been the top administrator there since 2000, told The McDuffie Mirror on Monday that he first was informed of the school board's decision in a telephone call made to him at his home by School Superintendent Jim LeBrun following the school board meeting last week.

"My initial response was 'wow,'" remarked Mr. Powell, a 39-year veteran educator, coach and administrator within the McDuffie County School System. "I told him that I understood that we are in a money-crunch situation and that if this would help the school system then I'd have to support it."

Mr. Powell said when he got to school last Friday, he sent out an e-mail to teachers and other staff personnel at the school that he would hold a faculty meeting that afternoon to address the issue of the school closing.

That same morning, Mr. Powelland other principals met at the central office with Mr. LeBrun.

During the faculty meeting later that day, Mr. Powell learned first-hand some of the emotional feelings of his staff.

"There are a lot of sentimental feelings that many of them share about this school building," said Mr. Powell. "And I think many people in this community feel the same way."

Mr. Powell said some teachers and other staff members were even shocked to hear of the school closing.

"Quite a few of them were in a state of disbelief," lamented Mr. Powell.

He explained that there had been talk about the possibility of consolidation of schools dating back the last six months, but there had been no confirmation of such from school board members until last week's announcement.

Staff members at Thomson Middle School, as well as at R.L. Norris Elementary School had heard during that time that school board members might shut the doors of Norris -- not TMS.

During a meeting with Mr. LeBrun the day before school board members decided to take action on closing Thomson Middle School, Mr. Powell said the superintendent informed him that school board members were "more agreeable" to the idea of consolidation of schools.

Before that topic arose, school officials had urged principals to do what they could to save energy.

"We started hearing the need for conservation in order to save money," said Mr. Powell, who served as an assistant principal at the school before his promotion to principal in 2000. "They wanted us to pinch pennies and cut corners everyway we possibly could. And we've tried to do exactly what they have wanted us to do."

Mr. Powell admitted that energy bills are high at Thomson Middle School, "because the school is so spread out."

His hope now is that Thomson Middle School, which was known years ago as Thomson High School, "can continue to be used in some way to benefit the community for future years."

Web posted on Thursday, February 25, 2010

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