When county schools close this month, all but one will be reopening in the fall. Woodlawn School, which has housed every grade of student at some time during its long history, will not.
The decision to close the school was made by the Carroll County School Board several years ago when plans were approved to move all intermediate grades to the newly-named and renovated Carroll County Middle School and all ninth graders to Carroll County High School, which also has undergone renovations.
The closing of Woodlawn does not sit well with some citizens, especially Shirley Steele, who has been one of the most vocal critics of the closing.
“I can’t understand all of this. It’s a historic school and it’s a disgrace to close it,” said Steele, who has compiled a three-CD set on the history of the school which began operation in a log cabin in November of 1870.
In 1878, the Woodlawn Male and Female Academy was founded by Isaac A. Minor on a small tract of land not far from the original log schoolhouse. The school’s name was changed to Woodlawn Normal Institute in 1898 and headed by Professor George Ivy. A boarding hall for students was built in 1902 and then rebuilt in 1904 following a fire. The building housed the Carroll County Library, which was the first circulating school library in Virginia, until 1957, and used as a cafeteria and classrooms. The structure, which was destroyed in 1960, stood where the present-day baseball field is located.
In 1907, a new school was built and renamed Woodlawn High School, becoming the county’s first public school. However, that is not Woodlawn’s only claim to fame. In 1917, it became the first public secondary school in the United States to offer vocational agricultural education classes. Governor Henry C. Stuart selected Woodlawn for the honor and Superintendent J. Lee Cox is given much of the credit for developing the classes, which were made possible under the Smith-Hughes Act. Fred R. Kirby, the first agricultural teacher at the school was named Master Teacher of the South in 1933 and his successor W.L. Creasy received the same honor in 1936.
The agriculture building still stands behind the present-day high school, complete with a historic marker noting its significance. That building is of particular importance to Steele, who calls her fight to save Woodlawn School “a labor of love.”
“I’m really concerned about the agriculture building, what will happen to it,” said Steele.
Others also think Woodlawn School needs to be preserved, including Bob Martin, who served as the school’s principal this past year. Martin, who has been assigned to Carroll County High School as an assistant principal next year, is also a member of the Carroll County Board of Supervisors.
Martin said the Carroll County School Board had the choice to close either Woodlawn or the Carroll Education Center, which is the old Hillsville Elementary School, and choose Woodlawn. He added that he would close the education center.
“I did suggest they close the old Hillsville Elementary School because there is no land with it, no place to park cars or school buses, and the building has been identified as a problem (structurally),” said Martin. “Woodlawn has 15 acres of land, plenty of parking, and water and sewer.”
As the situation now stands, the Carroll County School Board will relinquish ownership of the school to the board of supervisors.
“There’s a lot of decisions to be made, but if the school board passes it on to the supervisors, it’s a win-win,” said Martin. “It’s an asset for the school board to keep it and it’s an asset for the supervisors to get it.”
Martin said because of the amount of land and the natural slope that surrounds the current baseball field, an enclosed water park would be ideal. The rest of the land could be turned into fields for baseball, softball and soccer.
However, there may be a much more important used for Woodlawn in the future, added Martin.
“The area between the interstate and Galax is the growth area in the county; it’s been borne out by the 2010 census. If you draw a circle around the areas of growth in the county, the bull’s eye of that circle is Woodlawn, and, frankly, I don’t see that changing. I think down the road we will need another elementary school, so the property should stay in the hands of the school board or the supervisors.”