Valentine Themed Signs

In case you need some festive holiday signs ForHHS2. Add your own message in the blank heart. Print, distribute, and display everywhere. We’ll have some at the Feb. 13th City Council meeting. See you there!

HeartSignsColor (all the candy heart colors; just hit print)

HeartSignsBlackWhite (black ink only; print on festive colored paper!)

Revote Needed on High School

photo credit: Olivia Comer

The recent decision by City Council to delay funding a new high school by two years is unacceptable for Harrisonburg’s students. Ensuring the quality of education of children all across our great city is crucial for their prosperous growth and development into successful and productive citizens.  

The only public high school in Harrisonburg is at least 32% over capacity. Students take secondary stairs to avoid jammed hallways during passing periods, activity and athletic teams travel two hours one way to compete against schools of similar sizes, and its parking lot is raining classroom trailers costing hundreds of thousands of the city’s dollars. For example, the addition of six new trailers (to the already existing nine) will cost the city approximately $300,000 to install. This cost is in addition to trailer leasing fees, including a bathroom trailer for $25,000 a year. 

Over the years, Dr. Kizner, School Board members and the community have been speaking openly to the issue of overcrowding in multiple forums. Meanwhile, pressure from outside interests, including Students Over Structures (SOS), have tried to influence the city’s decision.

SOS disguises the fact that outside interests are orchestrating the anti-school campaign by creatively funding it through multiple limited liability corporations. 

Exposing some myths about the SOS opposition group may help City Council defend its children from a group reluctant to see a decrease in their city-derived profits, as they have publicly stated themselves. The city’s children are not their market.  

Myth #1: SOS states that it is composed of “individuals,” when in fact, it is a registered political action committee, receiving $19,950 in contributions from six corporations, some of whom are not headquartered or controlled by city residents. 

Myth #2: SOS takes “pride in not being a particular political party.”  In truth, according to its public records, the only two paid individuals are both intricately tied to the Republican party: Cole Trower, who worked for Representative Bob Goodlatte, was paid $4,000 and another $6,300 was paid to “Free Market Solutions” at the same Norfolk mailing address as Mr. Trower. SOS also paid $500 to Jacob Neff, of the Bridgewater College Republicans. In addition, Greg Coffman, Harrisonburg Republican Committee Chair, has given multiple media interviews opposing a new school. In a parallel anti-school effort, the Republican Party paid for ads disparaging a new city high school.  

Myth #3: SOS claims that it is “a diverse group of individuals of all races.”  This is simply not the case. The SOS financial contributors and public spokespersons simply do not reflect the ethnicity of HHS. 

HHS overcrowding has been here for several years, and not pending in some gauzy future. 

The decision to delay funding a new high school by two years is poor stewardship of our resident’s money as it may ultimately cost an additional $7 million depending on inflation, and projected increases in labor and material costs.  Combined with the interim band-aid solutions costing hundreds of thousands of dollars to alleviate the current overcrowding situation, the decision is neither fiscally responsible nor logistically plausible. 

I strongly encourage Harrisonburg City Council to vote again to build a new high school by 2021.    

Ken Rutherford is a Harrisonburg High School parent.

ForHHS2’s Reaction to Council’s Vote on 1/23/18

ForHHS2 is disappointed in the result from last night’s City Council meeting. There is a misconception that Council voted ‘YES’ for a second high school; however, the motion that passed included a budget for a 2021 open with a timeline of 2023. This motion is not viable.

We appreciate that all Council members now agree overcrowding needs to be solved post haste, and we welcome conversations about fiscal responsibility. We question the validity of the financial reports presented at last night’s meeting. City staff did not include measures to reflect adjustments for inflation, building costs, or actual operational costs for the public to review. In addition, it doesn’t include a analysis of the risks represented by delaying construction for two more years.

We are interested in how School Board will respond to this vote, and we suggest Council and School Board organize a joint session with a public forum to listen to the community, clarify the impact of the delay, and discuss the matter further.

ForHHS2 still believes our students and the crisis of overcrowding should be priority one. Furthermore, we believe in having access to top quality public education. For this, we invite all the residents of Harrisonburg—teachers, students, and advocates to fight for our children’s access to quality education by contacting City Council members.

Investing in quality education is our most valuable asset and if Council is really serious about this issue, they should respect the process that School Board has conducted in analyzing the many different possible solutions.

Another Voice from our Community

As a parent of a Skyline Middle School 6th grader, I am writing to support the immediate — not delayed — funding of a second high school.
My wife and I both grew up in a relatively small town on the central coast of California. Population of our town while we were growing up hovered between 25,000 – 35,000 residents (when surrounding county residents that fed into the school district were included — yes, about HALF the size of Harrisonburg). And we had TWO high schools. In fact, my father was recruited as an administrative dean of students for the newly opened high school when I was just 5 years old. So I know what it’s like to move into and live in a small community and enjoy the benefits of a high school that WASN’T overcrowded. A school where students could choose to participate in any number of clubs and activities because there was room for them, there were advisors, and there was opportunity to try and to succeed… because there was SPACE.
Even when California’s Proposition 13 was enacted and the source of school funding was drastically altered across the state, our two-high-school community endured. And I believe students have always benefitted from smaller class sizes, multiple sports teams (that competed against each other in friendly cross town rivalries), thriving arts programs, industrial arts, agriculture, business classes —you name it, BOTH schools had it. And I got a good education. Correction, a GREAT education… and one free of teaching to state mandated SOL tests (but I digress).
And now I want the same for my son and his classmates here in Harrisonburg. I know of the challenges faced by HHS food service simply to schedule, feed and seat as many students as they currently serve daily at HHS. I see the trailers parked on the HHS campus and wonder if my son will be relegated to those classrooms. I wonder how he and his needs won’t be further pushed to the side while the desires of the “no tax increase ever” local business crowd try to influence this decision based on short-term economic scare tactics. 
As a self-employed small business owner myself, I don’t buy those false arguments. One can look to the “never tax” states of Kansas and Missouri to see what happens when education funding gets held back by powerful no-tax lobbies: infrastructure crumbles, teachers move away, test scores plummet and communities LOSE jobs. I don’t want that for Harrisonburg and I don’t believe you do, either.
The time to act is now. Vote ‘YES’ on January 23rd so we can open HHS2 in 2021 and be ready to support both of our high schools!


We need to show City Council Members we are done kicking the can down the road! HHS2 needs to open in 2021. We need your help!

Below are few ways you can quickly make an impact. We’ve heard many reasons why people support HHS2, so to make it easier to act, we’ve created writing prompts. Please add your own individual voice, but feel free to use the prompts verbatim. Just do something today; don’t rely on others. Different voices make more of an impact than a few vocal individuals.

  1. Email City Council members:

    Mayor Deanna Reed or Reed’s web contact form
    Vice Mayor Richard Baugh or Baugh’s web contact form
    Council Member Christopher B. Jones or Jones’s web contact form
    Council Member Ted Byrd or Byrd’s web contact form
    Council Member George Hirschmann or Hirschmann’s web contact form

  2. Phone City Manager’s Office at 540-432-7701 to leave a message with staff.
  3. Post a comment to our website ( and/or Facebook page.
  4. Use hashtags #forhhs2 and #2021hhs2 on all social media
  5. Comment under Agenda item (closes 9 a.m. EST Tues. Jan. 23)

Pick the topic(s) you support. Mix and match. Share your voice.

A General Statement of Support

The Harrisonburg School Board unanimously recommended to City Council that our city needs to build a second high school. Council must act immediately so the project can be completed for the 2021-2022 school year. Our current high school is well over capacity, and a crowded school impedes learning, endangers teachers and students, and makes our city less desirable.

Think of the Well-Being of our High School Students.

I’m concerned about the safety of the students attending HHS. I have seen pictures and heard stories of the exceptionally crowded hallways. Students avoid the main stairway and take longer routes to classes to avoid being shoved or stepped on. They are anxious about being able to exit pep rallies in an emergency. They don’t have time to get to their lockers or a bathroom between classes. We all need 2-3 minute breaks throughout the day. HHS students do not have that luxury during their mentally draining school day. Don’t push off the safety and well-being of our students one more day. Vote now to open in 2021.

Stop Delaying! (voice of current high school parents)

I have a student in the current Harrisonburg High School. Though originally built for 1,350 students, my child now goes to a school with 1,800 students; my child should not have to push through crowds to go to class. My student doesn’t get to use a locker and has to carry everything for every single class with her/him. It’s exhausting. Because previous councils have delayed on this critical decision, my child will not benefit from a second high school. But it needs to be built—and by 2021. Let my child see that Harrisonburg can remain a “Friendly City” and show them it’s a great place to live. Build now!

Stop Playing with my Kid’s Future! (voice of parents with middle-schoolers)

I have a child at {school name} middle school, and I’m worried about the high school. Previous City Councils have delayed this critical decision. Because it takes almost four years to build, my child may not even benefit from a second high school. If you do not build for 2021, less than half {none if your child is an 8th grader} of my child’s high school experience will be in a school known for learning rather than crowds. Give my middle-schooler a chance, and give Harrisonburg a second high school for 2021.

Fix It Now! (voice of parents with elementary-aged children)

I have a child at {school name} elementary school, and I fear for the condition of the high school. I do not want my child to be one of 2,000 children crowded into a building made for 1,300. Honestly, I don’t even understand why City Council would allow students to be in these crowded conditions. Don’t let worry and fear continue; HHS2 needs to be finished by 2021.

Students Deserve Chances.

Academics aren’t the only part of school. Clubs, sports and other activities play an important part of the learning and development that goes on in high school. An overcrowded high school means fewer opportunities for Harrisonburg kids. This year, 75 students tried out for 14 spots on the boys basketball team. Some students made JV but 39 students didn’t get to be part of any team. This doesn’t even include the students who stopped trying out because they felt they didn’t have a chance to make it. Our kids deserve to participate and cultivate their interests and talents. Things are so overcrowded that kids already have to be outstanding to participate. I know activities are competitive, but more kids who aren’t already the best of the best deserve a chance.

Problem Accessing Resources.

Students don’t have access to classes, teachers and counselors at the overcrowded HHS. They can’t get the classes they need at the time they need them. Last fall, students were denied access to eight different classes because of space limitations and regulations. Students report that it takes weeks to see their counselors. They don’t have time to talk to teachers between classes because both students and teachers are rushing between classrooms. All students should have access to these basic things. Fix this problem—build sooner rather than later.

City Spending: Let’s Prioritize Education.

Harrisonburg can afford to do this, and still be able to fix sewer and water lines and adequately run the rest of the city. If there are places to cut costs, Council needs to look at ALL the projects in the CIP when prioritizing funds. Parking lots and interchanges aren’t more important than our students and our schools. Vote ‘YES’ to fund HHS2 January 23rd.

I Will Pay Higher Taxes to Invest in Our City and Public Education.

Harrisonburg needs to support a second high school to open in 2021. A new high school will raise property taxes by a small margin, but I am willing to pay it. As a city resident, I know property values will increase, businesses will locate here, and Harrisonburg will be stronger when we educate our children in a suitable environment.

The Overcrowding Makes it Difficult to Recruit New Employees.

I work in Harrisonburg, and I want the City Council to act immediately to approve the plan for a $76M high school for 2021. Your delay impacts my workplace! When we have open positions, the best employees want to move where their children get an excellent education in adequate facilities. Move forward and vote ‘YES’ on January 23rd. I want to show prospective employees Harrisonburg really is the Friendly City, and I cannot do that if Council defers this critical decision.

Stop Manipulating the Numbers.

There’s a problem with your math. The Tuesday’s agenda item involving the construction of a second high school uses misleading numbers in the Powerpoint presentation. I understand property taxes will increase, and I support the decision to do this in a careful manner. According to the Powerpoint (posted on 1/18), if we build for a 2021 opening, property taxes will increase by 13.4 cents; if we delay building for one additional year, we will pay 12.6 cents. This isn’t correct! By my calculation, if the same high school was built a year later, it would cost at least $79M. Your math and your priorities need to change—build to open in 2021.

No Delay. No Reductions.

The $76 million price tag is far below what we should reasonably expect to pay for a high school that’s built to open in 2021. Personally, I would be willing to pay more so the school can have a larger auditorium, an auxiliary gymnasium, and more classrooms. But, I trust the School Board to make that decision. City Council should decide on January 23rd that we need to open in August 2021.

Learn from the Past.

Past Council members have admitted they are ashamed that they delayed the decision and let the problem get to this level. This should have been solved seven years ago. But it wasn’t. Just because past Councils avoided doing their job to protect the future of our city does not mean this Council should continue to do the same. Stop avoiding what is desperately needed. Vote ‘YES’ January 23rd to open HHS2 in August 2021.

Harrisonburg Can (and must) Support Two High Schools.

When I initially heard that Harrisonburg was contemplating two high schools, I was worried it might divide our community. Then, I looked at the numbers—a mega-high school (whether through annex or addition) would be costly and would be at capacity when it opened. So, I looked around the country at other communities who have moved from one high school to two, and it can be done! In fact, communities have flourished because of it. Vote ‘YES’ on January 23rd so we can open HHS2 in 2021 and be ready to support both of our high schools!

Protect the Investment of our Current High School.

Although many have mentioned how overcrowding harms current students, there has not been much discussion about the wear-and-tear to the (relatively new) current high school. The facilities are strained. If we aren’t careful, our current high school won’t last as long as it should, and we’ll need to request more funds to update the current facility. A second high school must open in August 2021 to alleviate the strain on our current school as well as help our children learn in an optimal environment.

I Trust School Board’s Decision.

The School Board thoughtfully and thoroughly analyzed the situation and listened to all the voices in our community. Those voices overwhelmingly support a new high school, and it needs to happen now. Please trust the people we elected to make decisions for our city’s public education (i.e. the School Board). Approve the funds for HHS2 to open in 2021.

I Don’t Do Politics, but HHS2 Must Happen.

You work hard to make our community a better place, but I need to speak out. I have looked at the numbers, not only the finances, but also the number of children in our city public schools and the time it takes to build a second high school. Harrisonburg can afford it, and the students need it now. Do not delay another year. Vote ‘YES’ to fund HHS2 January 23rd.

How H.S. Overcrowding Affects Our Community

I own a real estate company in Harrisonburg. I am continually contacted by existing residents as well as clients relocating to Harrisonburg. Many have expressed concerned about the overcrowding at the high school. Several of my clients have sold their homes in the city and relocated to the county for that reason. As a former educator, parent and PTA president, I am well aware of the studies about keeping high school populations below 1400 students, as well as providing adequate art, sport and other exploratory spaces.

Our current school is bursting at the seams. Continuing to add trailers stresses the capacity of the common areas as well as exposing the students and teachers to the elements when changing classes. The trailers are called “temporary classrooms” but without an action by the city council the trailer solution becomes permanent. This is not acceptable! I would invite anyone who does not understand the stress the overcrowding is causing to come experience it for yourself. Please come at lunch and change of class time. Be sure to go to the front office for a pass.

Business Owners Backed First HHS

Dany Fleming’s open forum in the Daily News Record on 12/30.

“Such an emergency as this cannot be met by empty hurrahs … about the great values of our public education, but it will require real sacrifice. We cannot have schools without paying for them. But if we want better schools, if we want to [promote] the welfare of our own children, if we want to promote the [economic] growth of our city, we must be sufficiently unselfish to tell in unmistakable terms to those in authority that we are willing to stand for increased property assessment, increased taxation, or for whatever is necessary to give us, and to give us without delay, better school buildings for our children.”

1925 City Council presentation by Samuel Duke (JMU’s first president) representing Harrisonburg’s Chamber of Commerce. Harrisonburg was facing a dire school overcrowding crisis.

Duke continued:

“… if a flood should sweep away our reservoirs of water power on the river we would use emergency measures and repair the damage. Now every day large reservoirs of educational power are being swept out of the grasp of our children and the damage can never be repaired. We are jeopardizing the greatest powers that Harrisonburg of tomorrow can ever possess — moral and intellectual power.”

Harrisonburg was loaded with debt. However, business and civic leaders knew that Harrisonburg’s most valuable resource would be walking out the doors of Harrisonburg High School.

So, they threw a banquet “dedicated solely to the movement for better schools, including a new school with all the bells and whistles of a gymnasium, auditorium and laboratory space.”

A resolution passed: “The Chamber realizes there is a very vital connection between the general welfare and educational facilities of any community, and whereas there exists in our city a need for enlargement and improvement of our public schools … we pledge the membership to full cooperation with school authorities for the education of the young people of our city.”

Some public pushback claimed there were “too many frills in schools.” One DN-R letter declared “it’s a fallacy to try to educate everybody beyond elementary” and problem children were being dumped on schools.

However, in 1928, the first HHS opened. The attraction of new students necessitated the immediate building of three additional classrooms.

1925 Harrisonburg could be 2017 Harrisonburg … with an exception that local civic and business leaders were leading the way, trusting school leadership, and acting as partners and problem-solvers.

They weren’t willing to compromise our children’s education by cutting corners. Their bottom lines weren’t pitted against our school’s highest aspirations.

Their wise foresight has been Harrisonburg’s good fortune.

We’ve been a city of big ideas; of bold, practical and visionary leadership. Building a second high school is a big idea. We’re capable of it. We have tools to do it without burdening those with limited incomes and without delay. It requires the same vision, determination and cooperation that launched our first HHS; that laid the foundation for the Harrisonburg of today. Let’s make sure our children can say the same about this next high school decision.

School Size vs. Student Outcomes

Kimberly Bolyard’s statement to City Council on 11/28, in response to building a mega school.

Engagement in school declines as students move from elementary school, to middle school, to high school. High school students are an at-risk population for dropping out of school. Research shows that large schools are a factor contributing to high truancy and drop-out rates. When students establish personal relationships with teachers and staff, truancy rates decline. It is harder to build these personal relationships at large schools.

What are the costs of truancy and high drop-out rates for our students? These youth tend to commit more crime and have an increased frequency of substance abuse. As adults, they are more likely to be in poorer health, to be incarcerated, and to live in poverty. Society also incurs increased costs associated with high truancy and drop-out rates. Society experiences a less educated workforce, loss to businesses due to youth vandalism and shoplifting, social services costs to families of truant youth, and decreased state and federal funding for education because this funding is based on enrollments.

There have been many studies researching the effectiveness of large schools, as the recent trend has been to consolidate schools across the United States. In the past 75 years or so, the number of schools in the U.S. declined from about 250,000 to about 95,000 while at the same time the student population (k-12) increased from 28 million to more than 53 million. Much of the consolidation was driven by claims that larger schools have lower per-student costs. Data on the effects of consolidation; however, show that smaller schools tend to have better student outcomes than larger schools. Thus, if we take drop-out rate into consideration, the cost-effectiveness of smaller schools is better.

A study of North Carolina schools found that larger schools are not more efficient in the delivery of quality education programs. In terms of student outcomes, large schools are not better, and may be worse, than medium and small sized schools in terms of delivering a quality education. In addition, larger schools are more likely to have worse student behavior. For example, large schools have higher drop-out rates and their principals report more difficulties with student physical conflicts, vandalism, drug use, and teacher absenteeism.  

According to the U.S. Department of Education website, larger high schools, especially ones that serve low-income student populations, “have disproportionately lower achievements and higher incidences of violence than smaller schools serving similar student populations. […] In small schools, students tend to be more satisfied, more academically productive, more likely to participate in school activities, better behaved, and less likely to drop-out than students in large schools.” The overall result is that even though smaller schools have an initial higher cost per student, their cost per graduate is lower than that of larger schools.

The overall conclusion that we can draw from this research is that students are more likely to thrive and to graduate when they are not in large schools. Our current high school is very large and crowded, at more than 400 students over capacity. Building a second high school will give our students a chance to get to know their teachers, office clerks, and cafeteria staff, increasing the chances that they will feel connected to their school and be held accountable for attending school. It will give them more opportunities to participate in sports, plays, and clubs. A second high school will provide our youth with a better chance to engage in meaningful extracurricular experiences and will help us avoid the costs associated with high truancy and drop-out rates. Our youth are important as they will be our future business owners, city council representatives, and neighbors, and they will be more successful if they have a high quality high school education experience.

Smaller schools are more cost-effective per graduate than larger schools. And we want our youth in Harrisonburg to be high school graduates, not high school drop-outs.

For more information:

School Size:  Research Based Conclusions by The Rural School and Community Trust (2003). 

School Size and its Relationship to Achievement and Behavior by Public Schools of the North Carolina State Board of Education (2000).

School Size:  Archived Information by the United States Department of Education (2009).