Private school for low-income students OK'd by Roanoke City Council

McLeod Foundation will operate school providing scholarships to students

By Shayne Dwyer - Reporter

ROANOKE, Va. - A new private school is setting up shop in northeast Roanoke, and its goal is to educate students for free, helping lift them and their families out of poverty.

The plan is now in motion after the Roanoke City Council approved a rezoning request Monday night. The McLeod Family Foundation, which will operate the new school, said the federal tax breaks allowed them to put more money toward the project and get it started as soon as possible.

On a block of Belle Avenue in northeast Roanoke, another summer day draws past. But something new is right around the corner.

"Our goal is to get at-risk families out of poverty. For children, education is part of that, but we want to get families out of poverty," McLeod Family Foundation trustee John McLeod said.

The property may not look like much now, but the foundation has big plans. A K-12 private school that offers full scholarships for its students.

"We're aware that our poverty rate in Roanoke is still around 23 percent, which is remarkably high and we have to look at ways to address that and reduce that if we really want to thrive as a city," Roanoke Vice Mayor Joe Cobb said.

The students who will call this new block their home away from home will have long family histories of poverty. The foundation hopes that what it plans to do at the school will help break the cycle of needing help.

"It's a good safety net, but once you get in, it's very hard to get out. We refer to it as a cobweb instead of a safety net," McLeod said.

The plans call for a playground, and in time, new buildings. The building was once a school but has sat empty for some time.

"To see and hear the sounds and noises of children and see the vibrancy they bring, to see that building utilized in a very active way, I think is really positive," Cobb said.

The people turning the building around are the people behind HoneyTree, a fee-based preschool. They see it as their responsibility to make this place something good.

"Poverty is going to stay unless somebody does something to move in a different direction," McLeod said. "And that's what we're trying to accomplish."

The school is still looking at applications for potential students. But they're not wasting any time, the plan is still to start fall classes in late August.

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