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Gallery: ‘Save Our School’ crowd marches in support of Central Elementary

fr centralmarchWaynesville’s youngest public demonstrators — along with their parents and teachers — took to the streets last week to show their love for Central Elementary School, a Waynesville institution that could shut down to as a result of a massive budget shortfall facing the school system.

Bearing homemade signs and wearing printed T-shirts with slogans like “SOS — Save our School!” and “I heart Central,” the crew stretched along an entire city block as they walked through downtown from Central to the Haywood County Historic Courthouse, cheering and chanting the entire way as passing cars honked beeps of encouragement. 

“We all have grown up here, and it’s our favorite school,” explained 9-year-old Ava Quigley, a third-grader. “We don’t want to switch schools.”

If the school closed, some of her friends would go to nearby Hazelwood Elementary School and others would go to Junaluska Elementary School. It would be sad for them to have to split up, and besides, she really likes the teachers at Central now. 

“These kids mean more to me than you can even know,” said Joanna Pace, a kindergarten teacher who’s in her seventh year at Central. “It would break my heart to see a family separated in so many ways.” 

“The thought of splitting up and not going to Central anymore is really sad,” agreed fourth-grade teacher Darsey Fox, also in her seventh year at the school. 

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For fifth-grader Jacob Rhineheart, closing the school that both he and his parents attended — with his sister slated to continue the family tradition next year — would be devastating.

“I’ve been crying for the past three days now,” Rhineheart said. “I’ve been there so long and I love that school.” 

For Central parents, the concern goes beyond pure emotion. Bryan Crowe, whose third-grader did a year at Hazelwood before coming to Central, said his child thrived in the smaller environment Central offered.

“It just doesn’t compare to the kind of attention he gets at Central,” he said.

“Central’s just small enough for the students,” agreed Elizabeth Webb, mother of a pre-K student at Central. “They need smaller schools sometimes.”

SEE ALSO: Video from Wednesday's march

The walk drew from a wider base than just those directly involved with the school. N.C. Senate candidate Jane Hipps, D-Waynesville, was there, as were two teachers who traveled all the way from Macon County to carry a sign in support of the school. 

Upon arrival to the courthouse, the chanting grew louder, more cohesive, with mantras shifting between “Save Our School” to “CES Is The Best” to a robust “We are Central, couldn’t be prouder, if you can’t hear us, shout it louder.” Clapping, cheers, flashes of cameras and poses for selfies ensued as the sun set over downtown Waynesville. 

The coming darkness served as a signal to wrap it up, the group of Central supporters backtracking to prepare for the next part of the evening — a public hearing where they’d be tasked with convincing the school board to keep their school open. 

“I will do anything to save this school,” Pace said. 

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