By Madelynn Coldiron
Wayne County and Monticello Independent districts had been traditional crosstown rivals, but even though animosity had been tempered in more recent years, officials with the county district said they wanted to be sure students, staff and community understood that their system was not reveling in the smaller district’s fate.
While the scramble was on to accomplish the physical merger, the tone also was paramount, said John Dalton, who has been superintendent for 18 years but also is a Monticello graduate.
“From early on we were intentional about people’s feelings – we were intentional about the feelings of Wayne County staff and students, but we were also intentional about acknowledging Monticello’s closure and we genuinely felt bad for them. So we made it a point to do nothing but to be accommodating to them. Our goal was to make (Monticello) students feel they’d always been at Wayne County.”
PHOTO: Monticello Elementary School Principal Donna Rice gets a hug from student Jack Meredith during orientation. Photo by Linda Jones/Wayne County Schools
The strategy appears to have paid off, according to former Monticello and now Wayne County High School language arts teacher Paul Stringer. “I think everyone – I may be too optimistic or naïve – but I think everyone is moving forward and looking to the future,” he said.
And while unity is being emphasized, Wayne County school board Chairwoman Patty Roberts said that doesn’t mean the slate will be wiped clean of the Monticello district.
“We’re not just all of a sudden, we’re just Wayne County and there’s never been a Monticello. That’s another transition that we’ve tried to make perfectly clear,” she said.
That’s why Monticello trophy cases and Hall of Fame will continue to be displayed, she said.
To make it easier on the Monticello staff emotionally when the merger became effective, Superintendent John Dalton said they were given a week to remove their personal items from the school “and heal a little bit or accept the finality of it.”
From a public information standpoint, Wayne County officials purposely didn’t crank out news release after news release with every move made during the summer, public information officer Linda Jones said, choosing instead “to let it settle down.” In mid-summer, she issued the first lengthy summary of all the changes that were being made.
Stringer said teacher attitude is important because students will take their cue from their teachers.
“From Day 1, I want to communicate that I’m sold on this, that I’m 100 percent in as far as being a teacher,” he said. “And hopefully the kids are going to pick up on that, if they see my enthusiasm, because there’s a lot of opportunities kids are going to have that they didn’t have before.”