Covington leaders vote to merge city’s schools with Alleghany County Schools

After decades of discussion, this plan is in the final stages

Covington leaders voted to merge the city's schools with those in Alleghany County.

COVINGTON, Va. – It was another historic and emotional night in the Alleghany Highlands on Thursday as Covington city leaders voted to consolidate the city’s schools with those in Alleghany County.

The Covington School Board and City Council each voted 3-2 in favor of consolidation of the school systems.

Now, the plan moves forward if approved by the state of Virginia. Community members and leaders have discussed the idea for decades, and now it’s in the critical final phase.

City council and the school board met in the Covington High School auditorium, which likely would have been full if not for social distancing. Once the auditorium was out of socially distant seating, more people watched from a monitor in the school’s cafeteria.

Alleghany County leaders voted on Wednesday night in favor of consolidating the two school systems. After Wednesday’s vote, the final approvals needed to come from the city of Covington and the state of Virginia. After Thursday, the only remaining approval needed is from the state.

Hundreds of people have graduated from Covington High School in its lifetime, but the lineage of cougars is likely to end. Under the plan, the high school would close in two years and become a middle school.

“We’re fighting for it. We want to keep our school. I get a little emotional when I talk about it because this is home. This means a lot to us," said Covington High School teacher Steve Dressler. “It’s not about the money. It’s about the kids. If it’s truly about the kids, then take care of the kids. We have a good thing going at Covington High School, and we need to keep it.”

Former Covington mayor Rob Bennett set the tone for Thursday’s meeting as people in the city anxiously waited to hear if their schools would join forces with Alleghany County.

“Do I want to consolidate with Alleghany, or better yet, do we want to consolidate with ‘that’?” said Bennett.

Fueled by school and city spirit, proud Covington alums and community members did not take the decision lightly.

“It’s time to fight for economic development here, and not fight to close our school division," said one attendee.

Another attendee said, “They came to us; We did not go to them. They need us more than they need them.”

But the people with votes, those on the school board and city council, ultimately decided that the best path forward is together.

“We are better together, and the time for consolidation, I believe, is right now," said Covington School Board chair Tamala Preston.

Covington mayor Thomas Sibold said the loss of identity will be hard for the city, but since both school districts are small and not growing much on their own, he said this is the best way for both of them to survive.

“That weighed heavily on me and that was one of the bigger issues I had to deal with,” said Sibold. "Covington is not the city it once was.”

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