Hancock officials, residents address school board about high school’s future

by GEOFF FOX

A contingency of residents joined Hancock town officials in addressing Washington County Public Schools officials during the Tuesday evening, April 17 Board of Education meeting in Hagerstown about a teacher reassignment from Hancock to Clear Spring and rumors that Hancock High School might be slated for closure.

The teacher move in question was that of Hancock’s Ag teacher Tom Mazzone. Will Kauffman, Public Information for WCPS, confirmed that Mazzone would be reassigned to Clear Spring for next year. Mazzone has been at Hancock for five years.

Mayor talks of local pride

Four people signed up to address board members and Superintendent Boyd Michael. Each person was allotted five minutes to speak. After the public comments, the board members were able to respond.

Hancock Mayor Ralph Salvagno was first to address the board.

Over the years, Hancock has gone through a change of identity by losing manufacturing jobs and now creating a new identity with biking, walking, running, hunting, and fishing, which Salvagno said brings people to Hancock.

There have been economic hardships and other hardships, but the town takes pride in the community and a lot of pride in the school, he added.

“The town has worked to make commitments to our high school program,” Salvagno said. “We clearly understand that one of the keys to academic success is engagement and we know that the Ag program at Hancock High School has certainly done that.”

He told the board Hancock’s location offers a unique opportunity for agriculture education due to nearby natural resources.

In the last couple years, the town has purchased land adjacent to Kirkwood Park and designated that land as a location for the Ag program to raise cattle. They’ve tried working with the board on this issue, something Salvagno pointed out.

Salvagno said three things have an economic impact on a town.

The first two were loss of business and a bypass of the town. The third one he mentioned, he called the most important – the loss of a community school.

“Whether by choice or by necessity, many students find Hancock to be the ideal site of learning,” the mayor said.

Salvagno asked board members to look at the entire county budget and to make sure students, no matter what kind of school they attend, have the same opportunity.

“I think that’s really part of what your mission is,” he said.

Salvagno added the town is “very concerned” about the future of the Ag program at the school.

“We’re not defeated, and we certainly will rise above this, but I do think honestly that some of the decisions that are being made in regards to Hancock High School are short sighted and I certainly know they’re going to harm our community and as mayor of the town, I’m here to ask that you reconsider some of the actions that have been taken and at the very least, that you ensure the same opportunities that exist now are presented to the students at Hancock High School in the future,” Salvagno said.

Little addressed board members, noting they have a love of educating the children of Washington County.

“Just like the love you have for education, the people of Hancock have the same love for our community and our school,” Little said.

Hancock schools have been neglected, overlooked, and stolen from by the board of education, he said.

Hancock schools cost more per capita than other schools in Washington County; however, there have been schools repaired and even new schools built elsewhere in the county, Little noted.

“The overall cost of our school has been minimal over the decades because of the fractions that we’ve received compared to other Washington County schools,” he said.

Little said the elementary school infrastructure is failing and school officials know it.

He proposed combining Hancock Elementary and Middle School together and placing a new facility at the current site of the elementary school while turning the high school into a technical school.

Another idea he proposed was for school officials to look at the Poolesville school system and use it as a model.

“Please consider going the extra mile for Hancock and help us build for the future,” Little said. “Think about how we can increase our student population instead of trying to cut us down. There are lost of options and you have a town that’s willing and wanting to help.”

Councilman Tim Smith told school officials they wouldn’t find a town that invests in the community like Hancock.

Hancock councilman Tim Smith addressed the Washington County Board of Education.

When the Ag program started at Hancock, Smith said he approached the teacher about anything he may need.

He also asked why when Hancock gets something that’s successful, it gets taken away.

Smith also asked to reconsider decisions made regarding the Hancock Ag program. He said the program has changed lives at the high school; the kids respect the teacher and program, and the Ag program has over 55% of the school enrolled.

“We’ll overcome things when it comes along, but just don’t take it from us and not give us a good reason why,” he said.

The final speaker from Hancock was Marsha Flowers, a fifth grade teacher at Hancock Elementary and a parent of two Hancock High School graduates.

Flowers said she was speaking because she cares about what is best for the kids Hancock, her own kids, former students, current students, and future students.

She was also aware of the rumors being circulated regarding cuts, personnel movements, and closings.

“Tell me what’s up and why,” Flowers said. “Let’s be real and let’s be honest.”

Flowers said she needs time to process and see if there are options rather than not have a voice when something impacts her.

She asked why Hancock’s Ag position is being stripped of the teacher and why the same position at Clear Spring had been posted for a week with Hancock’s position having been posted on Tuesday.

“It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to realize what happened,” she said.

She kept the questioning up by asking if one school’s Ag program is more important than another school’s.

“Let’s be honest and let the stakeholders know in advance of what is on the table and being strongly considered if not already a done deal,” she said.

Flowers also asked if the high schools would be consolidated with Clear Spring in the future.

“I want an honest answer to what’s being considered,” she said. Flowers added she’s pretty sure “all these other things happening” are small steps toward a larger agenda.

“I just wish we were respected to get an honest answer to be a part of the solution for what is best for kids in Hancock,” Flowers said.

When board members were able to address the concerns from Hancock, except for thanking them for coming to the meeting and for speaking, members were silent.

Board member Mike Guessford didn’t respond, but did ask the Hancock people to stand, which they did.

Only Superintendent Michael addressed Hancock residents.

“How any rumor got started on the school closing, there is no intent on my part to make that suggestion at this time at all,” Michael said.

He said there was no master plan, conspiracy, or “nothing of interest” to the board to close the school.

“I think I’ve been consistent with what I’ve been sharing and that’s everything I know,” he said.

Any process of closing the school would be a lengthy process before a final decision has been made including public hearings, public comments, and “a whole series of things” before closing Hancock High School.

As for the Ag program, Michael said the intention was to fill the vacancy with one of eight applicants and “do our best to hire another outstanding Ag teacher.”

Michael did say the equipment and other Ag resources would stay at Hancock.

Michael also said enrollment at Hancock is falling.

A listening session will be held by school officials on Thursday, May 3 at Hancock Middle-Senior High School at 6:30 p.m.

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