NAACP president speaks out on potential Simpson closing

COUNTY — Some citizen concerns about the School District of Pickens County’s 2011-2012 budget focus on more than just finances and figures.

Sheila Crawford, president of the Pickens County chapter of the NAACP, believes that the elimination of Simpson Academy as the district’s center for alternative educational programs would not only be harmful to students, but would obliterate an invaluable piece of Pickens County History.

John T. Simpson Academy was the first and only accredited African American school in Pickens County.

According to the school’s website, John Simpson, principal of what was called the “Easley Colored School” in 1927, convinced trustees to build a five-room structure so African American children in Pickens County had the opportunity to receive an education.

By 1949, a 10-room brick school building was under construction. African American students attended this school from elementary school through high school. The school was eventually named for Simpson because of his many years of dedication to the students there as both an educator and principal.

“Simpson has a tremendous historic value to this county, as it was one of the only black high schools in this county during segregation and even after that,” Crawford said at Monday’s school board meeting. “Will it be sold to someone who could change the entire culture of the community that has been the primary home of five generations of African Americans?”

Under the current budget recommendations, the alternative education programs housed at Simpson Academy would be moved into the “regular” Pickens County schools. The middle school program would be housed at Liberty Middle School and the high school programs would be dispersed among Daniel, Liberty, Easley and Pickens high schools.

According to Julie Thompson, communications director for SDPC, what will become of the actual school building has yet to be determined. This unknown, along with other matters concerning the budget, will be revisited at the April 4 called board meeting at Liberty Middle School.
Chatoya Braddy, a student who has been at Simpson for two years, also addressed board trustees Monday night.

“If you close Simpson down, some kids will go back to what they used to do, and they’ll end up some place they ain’t supposed to be,” she said.

Four alternative education academies comprise the Simpson Alternative Center for Education. Designed to meet the needs of sixth through twelfth grade students who have not been successful in the typical school environment, instruction at Simpson is highly interactive and is driven by creating a student-centered environment that focuses on individualizing student needs, incorporating the most up-to-date technology, using the latest and most innovative teaching methods, and allowing student interaction.

“As citizens, we are concerned about the budget, but we are also concerned about the quality of education as well,” Crawford said. “Children can start kindergarten, graduate high school and never see an African American teacher. We have no African American principals in Pickens County.

“We’re talking about eliminating assistant principals. We only have two African American assistant principals. There are 2,230 employees in Pickens County and only 68 are African American. We expect the board to do right by all the children in Pickens County.”