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Unified school flourishing after controversial merger of Lorain’s Admiral King and Southview high schools

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Us and them has become we.

A year after the merger of Admiral King and Southview high schools into Lorain High School, fears of turf battles, busing headaches and a lack of extracurricular activities never materialized.

Lorain High Principal Diane Conibear credits good cooperation and planning.

“Believe me, I had a lot of sleepless nights,” said Conibear, who had six months to plan the consolidation. “But we pulled it off.”

The merger, in response to declining enrollment, was designed to save taxpayers some $2.8 million, primarily through consolidation of programs and services and reduced energy and maintenance costs from closing the Southview building.

Conibear said no jobs were lost in the merger, although 11 teachers retired and weren’t replaced at the end of the 2010-11 school year. There are about 190 staff members at the school.

About 1,100 Southview students moved in the merger. The high school’s enrollment is 1,942, with about 235 students attending early college classes outside the building at 2600 Ashland Ave.

Conibear said transportation was one of the biggest concerns.

The number of buses for the daily commute went from eight to 22 with the maximum bus ride about 30 minutes. Lorain Schools provides buses for students who live more than two miles from the school, where classes run 7:30 a.m. to 2:10 p.m.

Besides logistics, there was also an emotional cost. Both schools were rich in history, and students and alumni exuded pride about their schools. Add to that the normal apprehension of a high school student trying to fit in and then having to move to a new school.

Junior Avianna Velez said she liked attending the smaller Southview in her freshman year and was apprehensive about the merger.

“One thing that kind of bothered me and made me nervous was that we were on their turf,” Avianna said. “Even though it was Lorain High School, it was still Admiral King because it was still their building. That was something a lot of kids had a problem with it.”

Avianna played basketball and volleyball at Southview but didn’t make the teams at Lorain due to increased competition. However, Avianna, 16, still gets her athletic fix. She made the track team as a mid-distance runner and said she feels comfortable at the school.

“Once we were together, everything came together,” Avianna said. “Kids from Southview and kids from Admiral King are now friends and we’re just kids from Lorain High.”

Senior Katie Carver, who attended Admiral King for two years, said rivalries between students from different schools didn’t last long. Katie, a piccolo player in band and a drama department member, said the school increased its plays and musicals from one to three last year to increase participation.

“Everybody gets a chance to shine and do their own thing,” said Katie, 17. “Now I know a lot of Southview kids, and I’m happy I know them.”

Jill Galloway, PTO president, said students handled the transition better than parents who felt a loss of identity and tradition with the closings. Nonetheless, she said Southview parents, who didn’t have a PTO, increased the organization’s membership from about six regular members to about 25.

“There was that family atmosphere,” Galloway said. “The Southview parents jumped right in.”

Potential tensions were also defused by allowing students to choose the school’s new nickname. The choice of Titans was partially a tribute to the 1971 T.C. Williams High School football team from Alexandria, Va., which won the state championship after court-ordered integration led to a high school merger. The story was popularized in a 2000 movie.

Admiral King and Southview’s football teams both had career losing records.

The merged football team is 4-4 this year. The merged basketball teams have continued to be successful like their predecessors at Admiral King and Southview.

Teacher Steve Cawthon, the school’s public address announcer at basketball and football games, said he’s been careful not to accidentally refer to the Titans as the Admirals or the Saints. Cawthon, who taught at Southview, said he was apprehensive about the merger as a teacher and a parent. Cawthon’s daughter Taylor, now a junior, attended Southview as a freshman.

“Even though it was hard to pick up all your stuff and come over here, it was smoother than I thought,” he said. “It seems like people, even though they said they wouldn’t, kind of jumped on board with support in the community.”

Cawthon credits Conibear for the smooth transition. Conibear, 40, runs a tight ship. She was quick to pick up pieces of paper as she walked the spotless halls of the school Monday. She has two children who attend the school, and she said she wants school to be fun, but emphasizes discipline such as not allowing students in the halls during classes.

These are bittersweet times for Lorain Schools and administrators like Conibear.

While the district failed to meet 81 percent of standards on the latest state report card, its rating improved from academic watch to continuous improvement. The high school ranking ascended from continuous improvement to effective and Conibear is proud of the expanded early college programs the school offers.

The district has completed construction of 12 new buildings. Construction of a new high school, the 13th and final building in the construction project, is expected to begin in May 2013. The building is expected to open in January 2016.

However, the cash-strapped district is facing an $11.35 million projected deficit in the 2012-13 school year. Voters — who haven’t passed a levy increase for the district since 1992 — are being asked next month to approve Issue 14, a 1.5 percent earned income tax. Without it, interim Superintendent Ed Branham said he’ll have to lay off a third of staff and may have to cut arts and athletics.

While acknowledging the financial sacrifice — the tax would cost workers who earn $30,000 per year about $450 annually — Conibear said she hopes voters will appreciate what the money means to students. She hopes the progress and unity the merger created won’t be eroded if the tax is rejected.

“We are really on the ball with providing resources and support to get our kids into college,” she said. “Our goal is to graduate kids and get them to the next step in life.”

Contact Evan Goodenow at 329-7129 or egoodenow@chroniclet.com.



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