Satu Halpin has two children at Garfield Elementary School and is most impressed with the education they’re getting. She also likes the mix of grade-levels there and believes the older children adopt a certain maturity that comes with being looked up to by younger students.
Halpin is adamantly opposed to the restructuring proposal being considered by the school board, and isn’t shy with her opinion. At a school board meeting this month she refuted the superintendent’s claims that Grant-White Elementary, the building with which Garfield would be combined, has an academic resume to rival Garfield’s. She asked school board members about crime rates in the less affluent Grant-White neighborhoods, and after the meeting said she would pull her kids out of the district if the current attendance boundaries are scrapped in favor of developmental centers.
“We moved to a neighborhood school so my kids could go to school together,” Halpin said. “I paid a premium for my house to go to Garfield. If I wanted my kids to go to Grant-White, I could have saved $100,000 on my house.”
Following a series of meetings held earlier this month at each of the elementary schools, the District 91 Board of Education met for the first time since the restructuring plan was unveiled in September. Superintendent Lou Cavallo has said that dwindling enrollment, coupled with academic and economic incentives, make this the time to group students by grade-level rather than address. However, parents who have built strong connections with their neighborhood schools are pointing to logistical and philosophical reasons to support the status quo.
The Oct. 9 meeting marked the first time that the board, as group, heard directly from community members.
Board Secretary Frank Mott said that he, too, bought a home in the Garfield attendance area so that his daughter could attend what is arguably the strongest elementary school in the district. But with a long-standing practice of moving children to other buildings so that class sizes don’t exceed 20 students, Mott reminded parents that there’s no guarantee any child will attend a particular school.
“I totally understand that because my wife and I did that as well,” Mott said of buying a home based on attendance boundaries.
The exchange between board members and a handful of parents who stayed late into the evening to air their concerns grew tense at times, but covered a range of issues. Chief among the logistical matters was transportation. Board members and district administrators seemed to agree that more planning was needed on this front. But questions about student safety and neighborhood crime earned puzzled looks, and President Glenn Garlisch challenged a self-described “over-protective mom” to keep her fears in perspective.
As for crime, Garlisch reminded parents that two of the most violent crimes in recent months both occurred within the Garfield attendance area. In December, a man was shot to death in his garage – some 50 yards from the school – and an Adams Street woman was pistol whipped outsider her condo in July.
JoEllen Barron, a Garfield parent and vice present of the school’s Parent-Teacher Association, said she’s also concerned about a drop in parental involvement at the schools. With a larger group of grade-level parents at each building, Barron said she’s less likely to have as strong a relationship with other interested moms.
Also, kids and their families will have to adjust to a new building at least once before they reach middle school.
“Just the whole transition and me not being there,” Barron said of her concerns.
The school board is expected to vote on whether to adopt developmental centers for the next school year in December. Though a location hasn’t been selected, the December meeting will likely be held at one of the school buildings to accommodate an expectedly larger crowd.