“The Bethany community has long been noted for it’s wonderful school spirit and this was well demonstrated last May when the people, by a large majority, voted on themselves a special tax for the purpose of running the school…”
Rockingham County School Messenger
This community spirit and commitment to education remains strong in Bethany to this day and has resulted in the formation of Bethany Community Middle School.
In 1997 the Rockingham Consolidated School Board adopted a school improvement and building plan to consolidate remaining K-8 schools into a consistent Elementary, Middle and High School system. Bethany, a 700 student K-8 school, housed in the oldest building in the county (circa 1924) would gain a new elementary facility, but would send it’s 6-8 students to a new consolidated middle school of 1,000 located outside the Bethany community.
There was concern that the benefits of a smaller school with community involvement would be lost with this transition. A group of concerned parents and community leaders was formed to research the issue, and they became convinced that smaller, community schools and the K-8 structure was particularly important for this age range.
Throughout 1997 Bethany provided evidence and appealed to the School Board to amend their plan through letters, calls, petitions, endorsements, forums, and political action.
In September 1998, seventy-one years after the 1927 referendum, Bethany held another vote on education. This non-binding referendum asked citizen preference between K-8 in the Bethany community and the consolidation plan proposed and later adopted by The Rockingham County School Board. Bethany community citizens voted to retain a K-8 community education system, by a wide margin of 629 to 6. The majority of the Rockingham County Consolidated School Board continued to support the county wide consolidation plan. The board chairman suggested that the community should consider forming a local charter school.
With renewed vigor groups were established to meet the educational, legal, and physical plant challenges. In 1999 Elaine McCollum and Daniel McCollum incorporated Bethany Community Middle School. Elaine McCollum and Reida Drum, retired educators, spearheaded the development of the charter. With a committee of middle school teachers and parents they researched and adopted the Expeditionary Learning Outward Bound teaching methodology. The application for a Charter School in Bethany received its approval from the N.C. State Board of Education on February 3, 2000. Unused portions of the Bethany School were rented, and extensive renovations were completed during the summer through volunteer efforts of parents, future students and staff.
In August 2000 Bethany Community Middle School opened its doors to 75 students in grades 6 through 8, and the tradition and benefits of small community based schooling continues today.