Bus routes have been timed, alternatives have been dismissed and social mixers to help students meet their new classmates are in the works.
Setting the stage for next month’s vote on whether to scrap the K-5 structure in Forest Park’s elementary schools, Superintendent Lou Cavallo attempted to wrap up as many loose ends as possible before the board votes in December on whether to adopt his grade-level centers proposal. The idea has drawn fire from a vocal contingent of parents, many of whom are actively involved in their child’s education at Garfield Elementary. The change, they say, would harm education and kill the close-knit communities that neighborhood schools have fostered.
“We voted you guys in,” parent Lisa Haeger reminded school board members at the start of last week’s meeting. “We’re the constituency.”
Haeger was one of at least three parents at the packed Nov. 13 meeting appealing to the board not to dismiss alternative solutions suggested by parents. Meanwhile, two community members spoke in support of the plan, including a former longtime board member.
Everyone who addressed the board attempted to quell speculation that racial prejudice is fueling skepticism about the proposal. The superintendent, board members and even the mayor have said racism is a factor for some parents.
The superintendent’s plan would combine elementary students on the north and south sides of town according to grade-level rather than their home address. Garfield Elementary and Grant-White Elementary would be mixed so that students in grades K-2 attend Garfield and kids in grades 3-5 attend Grant-White.
Grant-White is the least racially diverse building in the district with blacks accounting for 70 percent of the population. Too, some 44 percent of the students come from low-income families, compared with the district-wide average of 25 percent of students living in low-income households.
South of the Eisenhower Expressway, Betsy Ross Elementary would house only up to the first grade because of space constraints in the building, leaving Field-Stevenson with students in grades 2-5.
Though the district’s busing program is an option for students, parents have, of late, expressed concern over how efficiently and safely it would run. Administrators traveled the proposed routes and said they’ve timed the start of the school day to accommodate transporting kids between the primary centers and the intermediate centers.
Students attending Grant-White and Field-Stevenson would begin class at 8:15 a.m. while the younger grades would begin at 8:30 a.m. Afternoon dismissals would also incorporate the 15-minute differential.
Administrators said they would do their best to enforce specific drop-off locations at each school for parents who drive their children. Particularly in front of Field-Stevenson, said Assistant Superintendent Ed Brophy, the current process is “crazy” and puts children at risk.
Cavallo also addressed four suggestions offered by parents that might allow the district to retain its neighborhood schools. Of those four, the superintendent spoke at length on the possibility of multi-age classrooms.
Academically, said Cavallo, that model “doesn’t really help a lot,” and will not address the inequities in class sizes being created by a shrinking enrollment. The superintendent said he also brought the proposal to every principal and administrator in the district for feedback.
“They were adamantly and unanimously opposed,” Cavallo said.