Lions Club hears from Chambley

Published 10:10 am Thursday, February 22, 2024

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VALLEY — At Monday’s meeting of the Valley Lions Club, Chambers County Superintendent of Schools Dr. Casey Chambley reviewed what was involved in selecting the new high school’s name, school colors and mascot. The public announcement of this took place last Tuesday at Langdale Auditorium.

A groundbreaking for the new consolidated high school will be taking place at 11 a.m. this Friday. A big crowd is expected to be there for what will surely be a historic event for Chambers County.

Settling on the new school’s name, the colors and mascot had differing levels of difficulty. “We sought input on this throughout the district,” Chambley said. “The school name was the easy part. The name Chambers County High School topped the list of names every single time.”

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The new $90 million high school will be the second one to have that name. The first one was in Milltown and closed in an earlier round of consolidation in 1991.

People who attended public meetings about the new high school were asked for their ideas on this. Chambley said that light blue was the top choice followed by navy, red, white, black and gold. Most schools have two colors. Chambers County High will have four: light blue, navy, red and white.

Selecting the mascot was the hardest part. Many were considered, but school officials wanted one that wasn’t common. In the first poll of students taken, Valley High students liked the name Cougars. The name Chambers County Cougars is alliterative and easy to remember. LaFayette High students liked the name Jaguars.

Other Alabama high schools have those names. There’s also a number of other cats prowling around this section of eastern Alabama. There’s the Lanett Panthers, the Springwood Wildcats and the Beulah Bobcats in this part of the state. A cat nickname was out.

LaFayette students also liked the name Joe Louis Barrow High, for Chambers County’s most famous native. An obvious nickname for a school with that name would be Boxers. The name Joe Louis Barrow High Boxers would get across that the famous boxer was from here. It also carries on a school tradition. A boxer is a type of dog similar to a bulldog, the long-time LHS nickname.

Valley High students also liked the name Chambers County Cobras. It’s alliterative and a name that would strike fear into the hearts of almost anybody. Luckily, cobras don’t inhabit this part of the world. The snake name Cottonmouth would be better, but it’s still a snake name and not something a community should be known for.

Surveys were taken on what type of creatures the school supporters liked. They could indicate their likes by putting a green dot next to a potential type of mascot. Birds scored well in this survey. Eagles and hawks were suggested and older residents liked the name griffin, or the familiar symbol of WestPoint Stevens. Many younger people didn’t know what a griffin is. It’s a mythical creature with the body, tail and back legs of a lion and the head, wings and front talons of an eagle.

There are lots of Eagles and Hawks already out there. “We thought about the name Falcons,” Chambley said. “We asked our architect if they could come up with a rendering of a falcon, and they came up with a really cool design.”

Unlike the Atlanta Falcons symbol, which is from the side, this depiction of a falcon looks forward and has outstretched wings. What Chambley really likes about it is that it’s wingspan resembles the shape of the new school when seen from above.

The Chambers County Falcons it is.

The new school will be the first major construction in the school district in almost 20 years. “The last time we built a new building was in 2005,” Chambley said. “This has been a stressful and time consuming process. We have had many discussions with consultants and architects. It’s also been a lot of fun. Everyone should be excited to be getting something new.”

Chambley’s parents attended Valley High in the early 1960s. His dad, George Sr., was a star running back on the 1962 state championship team and his mother was a cheerleader. “I grew up hearing about Valley High and its school tradition,” he said. “I know how much LaFayette loves their traditions, too.”

The Bulldogs have four state championships in boys basketball since 1986 and are gunning for a fifth title this year. Valley High is aiming for a back-to-back championship this year.

The new school should have some really good teams when consolidation takes place.

The school issue is something that had been kicked down the road for many years. Chambers County has been under the Lee v. Macon federal court decision since 1970. This applies to a number of Alabama public school districts with the goal of preventing racial discrimination. When Chambers County was going through some consolidation in the early 1990s, there was a plan to build a consolidated high school for Valley and LaFayette along Highway 50 approximately halfway between the two cities. The issue was put to a vote and was resoundingly defeated. This left one county school zone centered around Valley and a geographically larger zone for the rural county centered around LaFayette. To comply with Lee v. Macon, any improvement for one part of the county had to be matched with an equal improvement for the other school zone. When Valley got a new football stadium, LaFayette got a very large high school gym. Both high schools got new band rooms and new library facilities and so on.

The case came up again in federal court with Keith Watkins as the presiding judge. “He was upset that we had not settled it,” Chambley said. “He told us that it was a constitutional matter for the federal court. If we wanted a consolidated high school that was a community issue for us to decide.”

Watkins spelled that out in a one-page ruling, which was followed several weeks later by a 65-page opinion saying that the local board’s decision to build it in Valley was permissible but that consolidation would not take place until the new building was ready to hold classes. That will likely take place in the fall of 2026.

There was an appeal process for this decision. The clock started ticking on that on September 28th and expired on November 28th with no appeal being filed.

“We could move on the new school at that time,” Chambley said.

The next step took place on February 13th. That was the announcement on the school name, colors and mascot.

Friday’s groundbreaking is the next big step. That will be followed by site preparation, building construction, landscaping and some road improvements over the next two years.

Ram Stadium Drive, which leads to the visitor side of the stadium, will be the main entrance to the new school. There will be a bus loop behind the school that’s accessed by Valley Industrial Drive. There will be roundabouts on both sides toward the front. There will be deceleration and turn lanes off Fairfax Bypass. The City of Valley will be doing some of this work. It should take between 18 and 24 months to build the new school. A projected completion date is May 17, 2026.

What’s now W.F. Burns Middle School will relocate to the present Valley High building. The present LaFayette High building will become the new home for the K-8 STEAM Magnet School. That stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Math, programs to be emphasized in the curriculum.

Chambley discussed the school uniform policy that’s now in place. It’s all part of preparing today’s student to function in a professional world. “If you are in the military you wear a uniform,” he said. “If you work for UPS you wear a uniform. If you work on Wall Street you wear standard professional attire.”

Before the current uniform policy was adopted, some students were going to school wearing pajama bottoms and jeans with big holes in them. Some students wore t-shirts with writing on them most adults don’t understand.

“The kids look so much better with our uniform dress code,” Chambley said. “They get lots of compliments on their appearance when they take field trips.”

There’s also a bonus for the parents. School uniforms don’t cost as much as other types of attire that could be worn. “They are easier to wash, too,” he said.

Chambley should know. He has three school-age sons attending schools in Valley. One’s a senior and another a freshman at Valley High. The youngest son in school is in the fifth grade this year.

It took two years to get the school uniform policy in place. “We did a lot of research into it,” Chambley said. “What we’ve done didn’t come quickly. “

Chambley is confident the new school can be built without a local tax increase. It’s expected to cost around $90 million. Donations in support of the building project are welcome. “If you make a donation we will put your name on the scoreboard,” he joked.

The superintendent said there’s still some pushback on the decision to build the new high school in Valley. “I have talked with other superintendents whose systems went through consolidation,” he said. “They told me that some people will fight it until the new school is built. Everyone is okay with it then. It’s been a long process to get to where we are, but I feel like we are at the hump and about to get over it.”