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Paint Rock by Jimmy Emerson

ALABAMA A&M UNIVERSITY, Ala. – The Paint Rock Valley High School (Paint Rock) – which closed its doors in 2018 – is being repurposed as a communiversity facility for Alabama A&M University (AAMU), the Alabama Cooperative Extension System and the residents of north Alabama.

Paint Rock Valley High School was a K-12 school in the Jackson County School District. In May 2017, the Jackson County Board of Education voted to close the facility by the spring of 2018. Five years later — in June 2023 — the board voted to transfer ownership, including future property renovations, to AAMU for educational and community activities. It is one of the largest nonmonetary gifts in AAMU history.

“The Jackson County Board of Education is excited about the possibilities this joint venture will bring to our county,” said Chad Gorham, Jackson County Board of Education president. “This partnership allows students from all over Jackson County and beyond to explore, experience and learn in one of the most beautiful areas in the state. It will also breathe new life into the Paint Rock Valley community.

As a much-loved school, Gorham hopes that county residents will feel an even deeper connection to the project.

Paint Rock and the Land-Grant Mission

While Jackson County residents anticipate the school’s reopening, AAMU President Daniel K. Wims looks at the project through the eyes of a land-grant administrator. Land-grant universities have a three-fold mission: teaching, research and service. The service mission is generally implemented through national Cooperative Extension systems. These systems take research-based information from the university directly to the people. The goal is to improve the lives of people and the communities in which they live.

“Alabama A&M appreciates the donation and partnership opportunity extended by the Jackson County Board of Education,” Wims said. “This collaboration will allow us to expand the university’s curricular instruction with programs like forestry and animal science, as well as community engagement through the Alabama Cooperative Extension System and other organizations.”

Wims is also grateful for the leadership of AAMU and Auburn University Extension Directors Majed Dweik and Mike Phillips, as well as Themika Sims. Sims is the director of the Graham Farm and Nature Center, located two miles from Paint Rock in Jackson County. This collaboration strengthens Alabama Extension programming efforts between both universities, particularly when it comes to youth development. Urban youth, for example, will have a chance to go camping and explore a natural pristine ecosystem that is away from honking horns and the distraction of digital devices.

Thoughts from AAMU’s Board of Trustees

Similar sentiments were expressed by Roderick Watts, president pro tempore of the AAMU Board of Trustees.

“Paint Rock is a great opportunity for the university to impact the immediate community and to give students an experience they’ve never had before, such as camping,” Watts said. “The community and the educational opportunities that Paint Rock will afford are endless.”

AAMU Board of Trustees Executive Committee Member Richard Crunkleton, also a commercial realtor, was able to visit the property and considers it to be a solid facility, although some upgrades will be necessary.

“Paint Rock provides a great community opportunity in a location where AAMU does not have a strong presence,” Crunkleton said. “It also provides a chance for greater collaboration between AAMU, Auburn and other universities, particularly where agribusiness ventures are concerned.”

John Hackett, the AAMU trustee for district seven, also said, “The Paint Rock Valley School is a fantastic opportunity. I want to thank the Jackson County School Board for trusting us with this facility and for the opportunity to make a difference in north Alabama.”

The Future of Paint Rock

The Paint Rock Valley Collaboration Project (PRVCP) – which includes the Jackson County Board of Education, AAMU and Alabama Extension – will work alongside the Graham Farm and Nature Center, Jackson County Commission, Singing River Trails and other organizations to repurpose the facility and offer activities that include the following:

  • Extension programming, such as 4-H and environmental stewardship
  • Small business and community development
  • Agricultural research, including forestry and small ruminants
  • Community fundraising

“Working with the PRVCP is a chance for Alabama A&M and Alabama Extension to make Alabama better by expanding outreach to diverse audiences in north Alabama,” said Dweik, who also serves as AAMU vice president of research and economic development.

Sims further added, “We look forward to planning and developing programs that will serve the people of Alabama and the Southeast. The PRVCP will seek additional partners to assist in its mission of educational outreach.”

The Paint Rock facility is expected to reopen its doors in 2024. For more information, contact Sims at (256) 599-6612 or Dweik at (256) 372-4939.