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Archive for Monday, February 21, 2011

First Bell: New York ‘process’ offers clues for coping with closure; seek consensus or vote?; Mark Bradford explains how one can be greater than two

February 21, 2011

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A few education-oriented items from around the area:

Principal Nancy DeGarmo greets students on Wednesday, August 11, 2010 at New York School. Wednesday was the first day of classes for elementary schools in Lawrence.

Principal Nancy DeGarmo greets students on Wednesday, August 11, 2010 at New York School. Wednesday was the first day of classes for elementary schools in Lawrence.

A number of folks have been sure to remind me that all this talk about the potential for closing elementary schools next year should not be limited to the effects on the three schools being studied: Cordley, Pinckney and Wakarusa Valley.

Any displaced students would have to go somewhere, of course. And that would mean plenty of change, for everyone — students, parents, teachers, staffers, supporters and on and on — involved.

Members of the Lawrence Elementary School Facility Vision Task Force know this. Several asked Rick Doll, superintendent of the Lawrence school district, about the district’s “transition process” for dealing with changes.

“The best example I can give is our recent experience with moving some students from Kennedy to New York, which went very smoothly,” Doll said, in a note to task force members.

Doll provided members with a memo written by Nancy DeGarmo, principal at New York, detailing some of the transition activities her school employed beginning less than a year ago — leading up to and through the fall transfers.

A few things that worked:

• Bringing some Kennedy teachers over to New York, so that kids who switched schools could “see a familiar face the first couple weeks of school.” Such teachers also helped families feel more comfortable.

• During a “Character Counts” assembly in September, each class designed a shield to use when entering the gym. “We had a very formal entrance where all of the classes were introduced and we formally recognized that we are ‘New York Knights.’ ” Teachers were instructed to no longer refer to “Kennedy kids” or a “Kennedy teacher,” but instead to regard everyone as New York Knights. “This simple change of language brought us all together.”

You can read the memo for more. It may be worth noting that neither New York nor Kennedy closed, and that students who might be displaced from Cordley, Pinckney or Wakarusa Valley likely would be headed to several different schools.

Members of the task force meet at 5:30 p.m. Monday at district headquarters, 110 McDonald Drive. Recommendations are due to the Lawrence school board a week later.

•••

It certainly will be interesting Monday night to see what consensus the task force can reach. Among the options:

• Identify two schools to recommend for closure for next year, from the list of three candidates: Cordley, Pinckney and Wakarusa Valley.

• Identify one school to close for next year, from the same list.

• Recommend whether to close one or two schools, but not select which one or ones.

A fourth option, as yet unaddressed by the task force, could involve simply forwarding all their information — data and reports and values and criteria and everything else they’ve compiled during the past eight months — to the school board for consideration.

It’s certainly possible.

As task force member Steve Glass said during last week’s meeting, which fell short of consensus on anything except plans to meet again: “Ultimately, we need to have a vote. That’s the only way we’re going to be able to see what consensus is.”

•••

Last week I spoke with Mark Bradford, vice president of the school board, about the task force’s work and ongoing push toward consensus.

City commissioner Rob Chestnut, center, talks with school board candidate Mark Bradford as the two look over election results Tuesday, April 7, 2009 at the Douglas County Courthouse. At left is Lawrence city manager David Corliss.

City commissioner Rob Chestnut, center, talks with school board candidate Mark Bradford as the two look over election results Tuesday, April 7, 2009 at the Douglas County Courthouse. At left is Lawrence city manager David Corliss.

As we discussed potential school closings, Bradford said he would wait to see the task force’s recommendations. But he was clear about his preference for approaching such decisions at the board level.

He posed a hypothetical question to illustrate his point.

Which, he said, would be better:

• Keeping all schools open, with part-time staff, reduced programs and fewer resources?

• Closing a school or schools, so that all remaining schools could have full-time nurses, counselors, administrators, librarians and others to handle ongoing or even new programs?

“Is it better to have two buildings with all the services in there part-time, or is it better to have one building and have all those services — and maybe then some — for kids, in one building instead of two?” Bradford said. “If you have a million dollars, is it better to spend a half-million in two buildings, or is it better to have a really well equipped, very safe, very technically built building, to really maximize all those issues?”

He answered his own questions.

“I think it’s better to build quality that will last for many years, than to just go piecemeal: put a roof there, an elevator over here, something else over there,” he said. “That just doesn’t make sense to me.”

Bradford is in line to become board president this summer, when at least three new board members will be joining him following elections April 5.

— The First Bell e-mailbox is always open: mfagan@ljworld.com.

Comments

irvan moore 3 years, 8 months ago

so we ask Rick Doll for advice? fox watching henhouse? please think about the idea of waiting for the next school board to take over before making these decisions.

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Amy Albright 3 years, 8 months ago

Is it better to bus children across town, or have neighborhood schools where kids can walk to and from school each day?

Is it better to have large class sizes and big buildings where hundreds of children go each day, or is it better to have smaller neighborhood schools with smaller class sizes and a population of students and teachers where everyone knows one another?

Is it better to maintain the status quo with our resources, closing more schools and reducing teaching staff every year, or could we consider other more creative cost cutting ideas and revenue building ideas through state legislation?

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commuter 3 years, 8 months ago

Dougnamy- Your assumption of smaller schools having smaller classroom sizes is not accurate. Smaller schools will be limited by the amount of classrooms available & the number of students.

While I would like to have every Lawrence child to go to a neighborhood school, it is not feasible. There are 2 high schools, 4 junior high (middle schools) and 15 Elementary schools. What looks out of whack?? The number of elementary schools.

Kids adapt. I think the parents are the ones who do not adapt as well. My children went from Deerfield to Central. At the time, Deerfield was larger than Central. Kinda funny, the elementary school is larger than the junior high.

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Prairielander 3 years, 8 months ago

Manhattan has 9 elementary, 2 middle and 1 high school. Are they out of wack too?

I grew up in a smaller community with 5 elementary, 1 middle and 1 high school. Seemed just about right.

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maybeso 3 years, 8 months ago

Closing a school or schools, so that all remaining schools could have full-time nurses, counselors, administrators, librarians This is, unfortunately, ridiculous. Closing a school or schools will in no way allow for full-time nurses, librarians, etc. Bradford is blowing hot air.

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LeCroix 3 years, 8 months ago

None of this makes much since. District creates a task force to pick one or two schools to close, because we need money now, but want to be sensible so our future is bright. Task force is supposed to gather data, based on certain criteria, and then based on criteria recommend their ideas for closure. Task force largely ignores its own criteria and goes ahead and recommends closure. District turns around and asks for more money through a bond. Doesnt make much sense.

It's time to examine the best ways to eliminate expense both immediately and long-term.

Which buildings if closed provide the district with the most potential money from a sale?

District offices? could be attractive to business Cordley? would make an attractive site for a developer to put up apartments or multi-family dwellings

Which buildings are capable of holding 300+ students, and hold all day Kindergarten right now? Keeping a school that does not meet this criteria over a school that does simply doesnt make a whole lot of sense when the main issue is an immediate budget shortfall.

Does closing a school building ensure that none of our teachers will be laid off?

If lay-offs occur will the district keep our most talented and qualified or just go with who has been around the longest?

Again I urge people to look over the data and ask yourself what you would do. Ask yourself the questions. Would you want your kid to be taught by the most qualified or by the oldest?

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alm77 3 years, 8 months ago

"New York ‘process’ offers clues for coping with closure" You say this as if it's a done deal. It's not.

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kjh 3 years, 8 months ago

LeCroix has some great points - notably "task force largely ignores its own criteria and goes ahead and recommends closure". One of the most frustrating things in the world is to realize your voice is not heard. So much for a "community task force". The facts and figures were skewed as needed to push, pull, lead, and drag everyone to the conclusion some already wanted from the beginning. Years ago when I considered having children, and whether or not to raise them in/around Lawrence, I had real concerns about the size of the schools and the motives of the administration. My plan was to educate my children in a smaller, surrounding community. Financially I was unable to make that move as my children started school, but was pleasantly surprised by the elementary school environment. We seem to be poised (and hell bent) to destroy that, and the very nightmare I had about Lawrence schools is coming true.

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