Davis and a few other members of Columbia’s Parent Teacher Organization (PTO) have started an online petition for funds to keep the schools open.

“People feel so helpless and like there is nothing they can do,” said Cheryl Potter, mother of a first grader at Columbia.  “It’s such a great little school … we all sit there and talk about why it needs to stay open.  Generations of kids have gone to this school.  There are grandmothers who pick up their grandkids whose children went here.”

Closing Cunningham and Columbia schools were conditions outlined by the Board of Supervisors when Fluvanna schools were granted a supplemental $308,000 in November in order to balance the budget mid-year and avoid furloughing teachers.  In a very tight budget year, the move anticipates to save the school board $750,000.

“If I could, I would walk in and give the school board $750,000.  I don’t have that much money, and I don’t know anyone who does,” said Madison.  “The only option I have is to go back to the Board of Supervisors.  I know that there is very little chance that they’ll pay attention to it and give it funds – but we want that little chance.”

Cunningham and Columbia Elementary Schools share a principal, Sue Davies.  Davies appreciates the support for the schools, and encourages community members to stay engaged.

“I understand their passion and desire to keep these special community schools open; as there is a unique feel to a small school,” said Davies.  “I encourage all parents and community members to stay engaged with the budget process as it does have a huge impact on how we operate on a day to day basis.”

Both Madison and Potter worry about sending their younger children to Central because of its size.  If Cunningham and Columbia close – both of which have around 200 students – Central elementary school will have approximately 900 Kindergarten through second graders.

“This is going to affect all of the kids in the county,” said Potter. “It has an impact – in some way – on every child’s education.  The classroom sizes are getting bigger.  Kids who are a little behind or a little ahead aren’t going to have extra opportunities for enrichment.  One of the beauties of being [at Columbia Elementary], and it being small, is that that extra opportunity is there.  Those kids who needs extra help in reading or math, get it.”

Assistant Superintendent for Fluvanna County Schools Chuck Winkler estimates that the student to teacher ratio for Kindergarteners in will go up from 18 to 1 to 20 to 1 next year, because of the school closings and consequential staff cuts.

“We know that there are great teachers at Central, but they can only do so much,” said Madison.  “With positions and jobs and things being eliminated, it’s going to put more stress on the teachers.”

Traditionally, Columbia and Cunningham elementary schools have struggled academically, particularly with the testing associated with No Child Left Behind legislation.  Both schools failed to make Adequate Yearly Progress [AYP] from 2006 to 2012, when the Commonwealth of Virginia began to opt out of the federal No Child Left Behind program. The two rural schools have accommodated many of the students in the county living in poverty.  While only 27 percent of the entirety of Fluvanna County Public School students receives free and reduced lunch, 51 percent of Cunningham Elementary and 45 percent of Columbia Elementary students receive the income-based program.

“If it was only emotional attachment to the school, I wouldn’t have done this,” said Madison.  “Longer bus routes, bigger school sizes, bigger class sizes … we’re doing this because we feel that this is the best thing to do for the county and the kids and our future.”

To date the petition to keep the schools open has 118 signatures.  Madison hopes to present it at this month’s Board of Supervisor’s meeting.  To visit the petition, go online to


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