HAZARD — At the Nov. 22 Perry County School Board meeting, the final votes were cast to close three elementary schools; A.B. Combs, Chavies and Willard. The current school year will be the last for these three institutions. In Aug., they will consolidate to form the student body of West Perry Elementary, currently under construction in Hazard. For students of Chavies Elementary, there will be a split in the district with some of the students attending West Perry and the others joining Buckhorn Elementary.
The closing of Chavies School has been a topic of debate throughout the year and became a major campaign issue in the School Board elections earlier this month. Several members of the Chavies community have approached the Board of Education to try and pursuade members to keep the school open. Some of those opposed to the school’s closing have highlighted the fact that, at one time, Chavies was slated to receive a new school, with funds reserved for the project. However, Superintendent Jonathan Jett says the change in plans will be more beneficial for Perry County students, as a whole, and is also necessary to keep the district in line with state requirements, with enrollment vastly dropping at schools throughout the county.
In a Jan. interview with the Hazard Herald, Jett said, “We did have a plan to build Chavies a new school, but the plan had to change. And the plan changed based on data, not feelings or anything like that. There is no way we could justify building a new school at Chavies, when Chavies sits in between the West Perry and Buckhorn districts, within 15 miles either direction. When we’re looking at the entire district and developing a strategic plan for years down the road, the best decision is to build West Perry and then also build a new school for kids in the south end of the county.”
A.B. Combs and Willard have also served as staples in their respective communities for decades. Next summer, they, along with students from Chavies, will begin a new era at West Perry, which school officials estimate to open with an enrollment of 650 to 750 students.
West Perry is merely the most recent project in a wave of new schools, which brings with it the closure of old schools. East Perry began the process. Plans are in the works to also build a South Perry Elementary School, in the coming years, that will consolidate students from Leatherwood, R.W. Combs and Viper. As of now, no timetable has been established for construction of South Perry to start.
Sam Neace can be reached at 606-629-3243 or on Twitter @HazardHerald.