Roadwork to Affect School

An 18-Wheeler drives past West End Elementary School. Photo by Maggie Beamguard

Insider Reporter

Members of the Moore County Board of Education want to know more about their options before agreeing to the state’s plans for widening N.C. 211 in front of West End Elementary.

The N.C. Department of Transportation is currently buying rights-of-way to expand the highway from two lanes to four in Aberdeen and West End. To that end, DOT has offered Moore County Schools $145,000 to buy about 2.5 acres of the West End Elementary campus.

Four-laning N.C. 211 in Moore and Hoke counties is part of the department’s 2020-2029 state highway transportation improvement plan and is tentatively scheduled to start in 2024.

John Birath, Moore County Schools’ executive officer for operations, told the board during its Monday work session that the state’s plan to expand the highway toward West End Elementary won’t have a significant effect on school operations. 

Cars dropping off and picking up students use a secondary road to access the school. The parking areas along N.C. 211 are used for buses and some staff.

‘On-site circulation does not change,” said Birath. “All of the parents and the majority of staff are still coming off of the side street where the traffic light is over on the southeast side, so that does not create any conflict.”

DOT drawings of the widened highway include a left turn lane for vehicles coming in from west of the school. As it is, the road is 88 feet from the front of the main school building.  The planned expansion would shrink that distance to 65 feet.

“The first question that obviously comes to all of our minds is do we still have a safe environment and a safe drop-off zone to and from our school for our students and our staff,” said Chair Pam Thompson, asking if there’s potential for a deceleration and turn lane for buses coming from the east and turning right.

Birath said that since DOT isn’t recommending a right turn lane, the schools may have to foot the bill to work one into the plans — and that doing so would encroach further on school property. The Aberdeen, Carolina and Western Railway runs along the opposite side of N.C. 211, setting up the school campus to bear the brunt of the road expansion. 

As planned, the expansion puts the road closer to a disused tennis court surface now used as a play area for special needs students. Adding more turn lanes could cut into that space as well.  

“We are landlocked, we have nothing that we could provide our (exceptional children) students if we did something with their area, the tennis courts,” said Thompson..“Basically we would be out and we couldn’t replace it with anything else on the property.”  

The state can initiate a condemnation process, effectively forcing a sale whether or not the school board agrees to the terms. But board member David Hensley said the school board should hold its ground until DOT agrees to either re-route N.C. 211 and the railroad, or to fund a new school in another location.

“Our schools are already precariously, and I would say perhaps dangerously, close to the road,” he said. “There’s going to be growth, there’s going to be subdivisions, there’s going to be expansion. This road’s just going to get busier and busier and busier and we’re going to end up with this school … 20 yards from this busy four-lane divided highway is going to be our school.”

The proposed sale of property along the front of the West End campus will be on the board’s regular meeting agenda on Monday. Board members will have a chance to confer with the schools’ attorney before considering that vote. 

In other business Monday, a proposal by the district’s technology staff to replace 4,000 Chromebook computers for elementary school students received mixed reviews from board members who question the role of technology in teaching younger students. 

“What I’m really talking about is reading, and what I’m really talking about is attention span, and being able to read chapter books and to be able to read on the third grade level,” said board member Robert Levy. 

“We have a problem … and I think the public needs to know that’s not just Moore County, that 50 percent of most children in the state of North Carolina don’t read to grade level and, certainly in Moore County, we need to raise that and one of the ways is to emphasize the computers less and the books more.” 

Administrators proposed a lease-purchase plan with Trafera Financial Services covering 3,600 Chromebooks for students in grades two through five. Moore County Schools has already bought 400 machines using federal emergency funds. The contract would cost the district $1.3 million over four years, after which time the devices would become school property.

Kendt Eklund, the district’s director for technology, said the Chromebooks could be supported even longer, until 2029. The schools need them in classrooms for the upcoming school year in order for each student to have a device for their personal use at school.

Moore County Schools currently practices what’s known as ‘one-to-one’ computing in kindergarten through 12th grade. That was only possible because devices became indispensable for virtual instruction at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. Kindergarten and first-grade students use iPad tablets rather than Chromebooks.

“One of the reasons we’re facing this need to refresh is because we haven’t had the elementary schools properly supported through our regular sustainability plan, and they are now dealing with devices that have been largely hand-me-downs from other grade levels and they are facing this imminent end-of-life in June,” said Eklund.

The proposed lease would be funded through the district’s regular digital learning allocation from the county. 

Seth Powers, Moore County Schools’ interim executive officer for academics and student support services, said that maintaining a one-to-one student-device ratio helps teachers structure their classes more efficiently and incorporate individualized computer-based activities with traditional reading, full class and small group instruction during the day.

It also allows tests and other assessment activities to be administered to entire classes at the same time. Students in grades 3-8 have to take state End-of-Grade tests online, as well as periodic ‘check-in’ assessments throughout the year.

“These devices are absolutely a supplement in the classroom. These devices are not meant to be used as a total resource and all that children use,” said Powers.

Hensley suggested that the board consider backing off of the number of devices available in elementary schools, to one for every two students, and reprogramming the money saved to hire additional teachers. 

“When we get to our strategic plan Madam Chair, one of the things we really need to discuss is what is the appropriate use of technology in our lower grades,” said Hensley. “I think as a board we need to have a discussion and hopefully come to some consensus.”

The open session of the Moore County Board of Education’s regular meeting is scheduled to begin at 5:30 p.m. on May 9 at Carthage Elementary School.

Contact Mary Kate Murphy at (910) 693-2479 or