Celebrating a historic occasion in the county, South Boston and Cluster Springs elementary schools and the state-of-the-art renovation/addition at Halifax County Middle School were dedicated on Wednesday, August 15, 2007.
“This is the first school dedication since Sept. 28, 1980,” Deputy Superintendent Larry Clark told the crowd gathered for South Boston Elementary School’s early morning dedication. “That was the high school,” added the dedication’s emcee.
The last elementary school built in the county was in 1965, according to school officials. “For 42 years we’ve waited for a new school,” said Superintendent of Schools Paul Stapleton.

Describing the new school dedications as “long overdue,” Clark called the day representative of what the community can do when it pulls together.

While it was a long, hot day for state and local officials attending the three dedications, it was one that drew rave reviews not only for the facilities but for the community.

Repeatedly, the school superintendent’s vision and leadership, the School Board and supervisors’ support were credited with vaulting Halifax County public schools into not only the state but national limelight.

“How could a rural school system in Southern Virginia capture so much technology and be on the cutting edge?” asked Fifth District Congressman Virgil Goode at the Cluster Springs dedication.

The congressman’s description of the Halifax system as “a leading school division, not only in the Commonwealth but in the nation” came with credentials.

The middle school’s Smart Lab, deemed one of a kind and a model nationwide, was one example.

“The smart lab introduces student to new technologies, moving them into the 21st century in a hurry,” said Stapleton of the facility, which features aviation, communication, music and engineering opportunities. “It’s the only one in the state of Virginia like it and it is outstanding in the nation.”

In the elementary schools and the middle school, computer labs, state-of-the-art libraries, science labs at the middle school and “unique building designs” friendly to educators and students alike are featured.

“This is the best renovation project I’ve ever seen or been involved in,” said Stapleton of the middle school. He was particularly pleased with the transformation of the library from what he described as “a dark dungeon” to a vast media center decked with books, resource materials and computers, all bathed in the natural light of an uncovered skylight.

Branch & Associates of Roanoke was the contractor for the middle school project.

Throughout the day, the schools’ unique designs drew Stapleton’s praise for Dewberry & Davis, and particularly architect Alan Burchette.

“This school is designed with one thing in mind, what’s best for children,” said the superintendent at South Boston Elementary’s dedication.

“We worked with teachers and staff to design it, and the design of this building is unique to the state,” he added. “Alan designed it.”

At all three school sites, the superintendent noted the project’s impact on the community, citing not only facilities but the positive factor for IDA’s economic development efforts and the boon for area subcontractors


“I commend you for all that you have done,” said South Boston Mayor Carroll Thackston as school officials unveiled the new elementary school. “This is another great day in the history of South Boston,” said the mayor, naming a growing list of notable town achievements including the Higher Education Center, The Prizery, South Boston Speedway, VIR and other downtown additions.

“Of all the notable events that have happened in these recent years, in my judgment, this should go at the top of the list,” said the mayor of the new school.And the School Board drew praise for its determination and tenacity to see the school projects through.
During the ceremony, the town was also recognized by school officials for the donation of land for the new school located between Houghton and Parker avenues. Blair Construction of Gretna was the contractor.

Del. Clarke Hogan, R-60th, called the dedications “a great day,” focusing “on the people who work in the school system, the teachers, staff,” who will use the new facilities to the children’s advantages.

For Dr. Dietra Trent, Virginia’s deputy secretary of education, it was a homecoming. A county native, she congratulated the community’s leaders. “There’s nothing more important than giving our children an opportunity to learn and succeed in this increasingly competitive world,” she said. “The investments that Halifax County has made in education will provide that opportunity for the students here,” she said.

Alicia Roberts, special assistant Secretary of Commonwealth’s office, and also a Halifax native, observed at the middle school, “If this doesn’t make students want to come to school, what will ....?“

State Sen. Frank Ruff congratulated the leadership that provided the three-school dedication. He noted the importance of new technology, the buildings, but more important, he said, are the people, the teachers and students. “That interaction is the most important part of education.”

At Cluster Springs, Trustee Sandra Rister said that her wish is “that the spark the begins at this school becomes a lifelong fire for knowledge.”

School Board Vice Chairman Steve Anderson said that prior to Stapleton’s hiring four years ago, he would never have believed two new schools and a renovated middle school would be dedicated in one day.

This School Board has made a lot of tough decisions in three years,” said Stapleton, thanking its members for their support and leadership.

He also praised supervisors. “This could not have been done if the Board of Supervisors was not willing to step up to the challenge and do it,” he added. “Not the first shovel of dirt thrown without supervisors’ support.”

D.H. McDowell, chairman of the Halifax County School Board, said the school projects were needed “to prepare for present and future generations” and that they are also a tool for economic development.

School officials also noted the new Cluster Springs opened “south of the Dan River,” a reference to Supervisor Lottie Nunn’s pursuit of new school facilities for that area.

William Fitzgerald, chairman of the Board of Supervisors, said that he and his Board were excited to be a part of history in Halifax County. “This transcends this community into the 21st century in education,” he said. “It is going to get tougher in the 21st century for kids without an education.”

Fitzgerald also noted the schools’ economic impact. “Education is always a key factor as the IDA seeks industry and jobs.”
Perhaps the deputy school superintendent summed up the day’s events most succinctly: “Combine vision and leadership with action and you can’t help but make progress.”