Archive for Tuesday, November 8, 2011

School consolidation group ready to move from talk to action

Members of the Central and East Lawrence Elementary School Consolidation Working Group are scheduled to meet tonight to begin suggesting, adjusting and forming scenarios for reducing the Lawrence school district’s roster of elementary schools by two or three within the next couple years. In this file photo from Monday, Nov. 7, are, from left: Alison Nye, Stacey White, Karla Hughes and David Unekis, representing Pinckney School; and Lois Orth-Lopes, a teacher and ex-officio member from Cordley School. Nye also is a teacher and ex-officio member of the working group.

Members of the Central and East Lawrence Elementary School Consolidation Working Group are scheduled to meet tonight to begin suggesting, adjusting and forming scenarios for reducing the Lawrence school district’s roster of elementary schools by two or three within the next couple years. In this file photo from Monday, Nov. 7, are, from left: Alison Nye, Stacey White, Karla Hughes and David Unekis, representing Pinckney School; and Lois Orth-Lopes, a teacher and ex-officio member from Cordley School. Nye also is a teacher and ex-officio member of the working group.

November 8, 2011

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Members of an advisory group plan to start discussing actual possibilities for closing or expanding or building schools in older sections of town, just as elected officials are expecting by early next year.

Whether the group’s deliberations Nov. 21 will lead to actual recommendations by their Jan. 31 deadline remains an open question.

“I think they understand they’ve got to move,” said school board member Randy Masten, who observed Monday’s meeting from the audience. “People want a lot of information, but there comes a point where you have to move forward.”

Monday night, members of the Central and East Lawrence Elementary School Consolidation Working Group spent more than two hours reviewing past discussions, exploring new ways to communicate, hearing how the district’s English as a Second Language program functions, determining how to consolidate requests for information, receiving student demographic data, and learning how various school representatives are receiving and sharing information outside meetings of the working group.

Several of the topics led some members to question why they even were discussed.

“In my opinion these are all very nebulous,” said Lois Orth-Lopes, a teacher at Cordley School, serving as an ex-officio member of the working group. “I’m getting frustrated.”

It wasn’t until after the meeting had reached its formal end — earlier this year, all 26 voting members had agreed by consensus that their gatherings would not go longer than two hours — that members started wondering whether they would ever start actually proposing and discussing and considering the very tasks they were assigned to consider: how to consolidate a list of six elementary schools into either three or four within two to three years.

The schools being considered for consolidation are Cordley, Hillcrest, Kennedy, New York, Pinckney and Sunset Hill.

Enough said

In two weeks — after spending 15 minutes reviewing and affirming and perhaps adding to a list of criteria for judging proposals — group members intend to actually start discussing ways schools might be closed, expanded or combined in the coming years, with anticipated financial support from a bond issue.

Group members have been told to operate as though a bond issue would pass and to remember that a bond issue likely could be structured so that property taxes would not go up, thanks previous bond issues going off the books.

“That can’t hurt us,” said Dawn Shew, a parent representing the Kennedy community.

Recommending which schools should close and how other schools and boundaries should be expanded or adjusted or reconfigured will require plenty of give and take, said Josh Davis, a parent from the New York community, finishing up his sixth meeting of the working group. But at least discussions during the seventh promise to finally hit some form of tangible possibilities that at least can be judged or refined or considered or, well, anything.

“I cannot believe I’m going to get home, and my wife’s going to say, ‘What did you talk about?’ and I’m going to have to say, ‘Nothing,’” Davis said. “While I appreciate all the data and everything, I cannot believe we’re this far and we haven’t talked about anything. It’s driving me crazy.”

Starting point

So he suggested a combination that has been brought up before: Combine New York and Kennedy, the district’s two elementary schools with the highest concentrations of students receiving free and reduced-price lunches, a measure district officials use to measure poverty.

Davis isn’t saying it’s the right answer. But it’s something to talk about, to get the discussion going, and he’d like to hear how district administrators would address issues related to poverty in a large, combined school.

“I’m ready to talk about it,” Davis told group members. “Let’s talk about it because we’ve talked about it, just among our New York folks. And we see positives and negatives. And we can’t decide which way it leans. And we are dying for some information.”

Davis expects such information during the next meeting: 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. Nov. 21 at district headquarters, 110 McDonald Drive. That’s when others will be invited to bring their own ideas, with those suggestions to be posted on large sheets of paper displayed around the room for all to see.

“Given where we are, let’s now crystallize on some options, and let’s make a case for those options and expand on the strengths and weaknesses of those options,” said Kissan Joseph, a parent from the Sunset Hill community, who worries that the group could spend another three months coming up with a long list of criteria to use in assessing scenarios. “There’s only one criteria: what’s good for our community.”

Comments

Melissa Isaacs 3 years, 5 months ago

I'm mystified that Josh Davis brought up the suggestion that New York and Kennedy be combined. At a recent meeting called by the New York delegates to the working group to get feedback and suggestions from New York parents, the parents pretty well came to a consensus that they would not be in favor of combining New York and Kennedy specifically because of the high concentrations of poverty in both schools. If New York has to be combined, we would rather see that happen with Pickney or Cordley, schools with lower concentrations of free and reduced lunch students and with a similar ability to take advantage of downtown's amenities (i.e. walking field trips to the art center, the Watkins Museum, the fire station, etc.) for learning opportunities.

Chris Lempa 3 years, 5 months ago

I don't speak for anyone other than myself, but I do wish to offer a little more context. Mr. Davis was making the point that now is the time to start discussing various "consolidation" (i.e. closing) options. The plans laid forward by last year's task force offer a number of recommendations that include combining New York and Kennedy. Those plans are available here: http://www.usd497.org/ElementaryTaskForce/ (look under the February 21, 2011 Meeting links).

Just before the quote you are referencing Mr. Davis says, "So he suggested a combination that has been brought up before: Combine New York and Kennedy, the district’s two elementary schools with the highest concentrations of students receiving free and reduced-price lunches, a measure district officials use to measure poverty.

Davis isn’t saying it’s the right answer. But it’s something to talk about, to get the discussion going, and he’d like to hear how district administrators would address issues related to poverty in a large, combined school."

Melissa Isaacs 3 years, 5 months ago

Sure, but why open the discussion with the option that the community that will be affected has already indicated isn't a good fit?

deadanimals 3 years, 5 months ago

abcd123 makes a good point-- why start the conversation with the least attractive option to the community. Perhaps a better place to begin would be to find common ground with schools that are a good match, promote diversity and try to preserve the communities that share a common interest.
I thought the point of the consolidation task group was to investigate a variety of options: to see which schools could be a good fit together, not just in the interest of USD497, but for the community at large. There are so many questions to ask at this point--- so many different ways this could go--- where are those conversations? It would be really nice to hear some of the conversations that are happening toward that end. Sadly it seems we have been forced to listen to the same conversation over and over again...with no new points being taken into consideration.

TNPlates 3 years, 5 months ago

abcd123 - Give Josh Davis some credit - he is trying to get the conversation started. And why not start with New York/Kennedy? That option, like all options, needs to be discussed and vetted, so starting with one he's most familiar with is probably the most politic thing to do. If a New York parent suggests focusing on Sunset Hills and Hillcrest first or Cordley and Kennedy, that might raise the dander of those folks and lose him some credibility. I think all he's doing is acknowledging that an option that has been discussed by many should get it's day in court, and most importantly, the whole process needs to get started. Hopefully, all the options will be discussed and vetted and wisdom will prevail.

Melissa Isaacs 3 years, 5 months ago

Of course Josh Davis, and all the other delegates, deserve credit for their willingness to play a role on this task force--no doubt knowing full well that no matter what they say, someone will be upset with them. However, my criticism is twofold: first, with a January 31st deadline, the group has a mere 2 1/2 months to come to a consensus--with such a short time frame, there issimply not time to consider every option. So why open with the option your own community doesn't want? And second, if New York parents are his "constituency," by suggesting the New York/Kennedy combo, he is running directly counter to the feedback he received from us.

Mike Myers 3 years, 5 months ago

I agree. Dude School sucks. I much prefer coeducation.

Kookamooka 3 years, 5 months ago

I just read an article where a district cut out it's busses because they were too costly to maintain and with gas prices so high...costly to run. WHat will Lawrence do when all of these kids from disparate neighborhoods have to be bussed to schools? What would the costs be when they build the Megamentary out of town and EVERYone has to be bussed because the developers haven't had time to build up the houses and strip malls? I would rather retain the efficient buildings in the neighborhoods than build the Monster schools with 10 sections of 2nd grade, 3 music teachers and 3 PE teachers in one gym teaching 90 kids at once.

roadwarrior 3 years, 5 months ago

“I cannot believe I’m going to get home, and my wife’s going to say, ‘What did you talk about?’ and I’m going to have to say, ‘Nothing,’”

Wow, that's the same response I get from students when I ask them what they learned in school today...."nothing".

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