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Shady Elementary saga coming to an end

The Johnson County School Board discusses current issues and solutions during the Thursday, February 13 board meeting. Photo by Meg Dickens.

By Meg Dickens

Shady Valley Elementary School has been at the forefront of the public’s minds since the June 2019 Johnson County School Board meeting that was the beginning of the end. Now the ordeal is coming to a close. The board is finalizing plans for the schoolhouse, while Shady Valley Elementary’s last year ends this May.

During a called meeting in June 2019, the board voted to downsize Shady Elementary by removing its pre-k and sixth-grade classes. Public outrage led to a community organized meeting on campus spearheaded by mother and retired military Major Ashley Worlock. The Shady community was afraid of losing the school and based its complaints on the inadequate notification. Board member Kevin Long assured the public that they would take steps to fix the issue and that the school board has not discussed closing Shady Elementary since the previous administration. Worlock and other advocates continued to push back, reaching out to government officials and requesting the board change its decision.

“You have generated discussion in this county about why we haven’t done something regarding Shady Valley and its enrollment,” School Board Chairman Howard Carlton told Worlock during the August 2019 board meeting. “Shady Valley Elementary is essentially getting to the point where it’s closing itself.”

Public interest continued to grow. The September 2019 board meeting drew a crowd large enough that officials had to move to Heritage Hall Theatre to contain them. There was a lot of emotion in the theatre. Board members and attendees cried when the final vote came in at 3 to 2 to close the elementary school after the current school year.

During the September meeting, the board announced it would accept bids for the building during the January 2020 meeting. The Shady Valley Cranberry Festival Committee and the Ruritan Club submitted bids and came to discuss their proposals at that meeting. The Ruritan Club rescinded its bid after reaching an agreement with the Cranberry Festival Committee, leaving the 501C non-profit company stemming from the Cranberry Festival Committee, the Shady Valley Elementary Preservation Committee, as the only bid on the table.

Legalities aside, all signs point to Shady Valley, keeping, buying the building as-is for a one-time one dollar charge. The board consulted with lawyer Bill Cockett, who suggested making a quick claim deed. It also had School Nutrition Director Kathy McCulloch and Elementary, and Federal Programs Supervisor Angie Wills look into the property on campus. The computers had to be removed, but the kitchen is intact. In the end, all parties came to an agreement that seems to work best for everyone.