Shattering Neighborhood Schools?
It is unfortunate that Lakewood will close one of its elementary schools for the 2013-2014 school year. I would prefer that none would close. Our family has lived in Lakewood for nine years and during that time we have observed passionate, involved families supporting all of our schools. Regardless of which school closes, there will be sadness and perhaps even some anger. But dramatic reactions can be tempered by a transparent process and a logical decision.
Although our family lived in Lakewood during the initial Phase Three discussions, we did not participate in them and frankly none of us could adequately explain the controversy surrounding the decision to close Grant Elementary. However, we do perceive the entire process as one that lacked transparency and which failed to answer the questions that were continually asked by the city’s residents regarding criteria used to make the decision.
Having moved from a North Carolina community which ran county-wide school districts that forced neighborhood children to be scattered to multiple schools and caused several children to be bused for over an hour one-way, we strongly desired neighborhood schools which kept neighbors attending the same building. We found a gem when we moved to Lakewood. Not only do we have neighborhood schools, but the children are close enough to their schools to walk to them!
But this idyllic situation will be shattered for a significant portion of the Lakewood community if Grant, our only centrally-located elementary school, closes. Currently Grant Elementary School is at the center of the most densely populated area of Lakewood. It defies logic to close this school and force these young children to the corners of Lakewood and into walks that could increase tardiness and absences. Students can’t learn if they are not in school. Perhaps the community is unaware of the large numbers of elementary children who walk to and from school without supervision. I observe this every day as I walk my own children and I have assisted many young ones with untied shoes, scrapes from tripping on the sidewalk, and winter coats that need zipped. I have also sheltered children from the random person who is screaming on the street about some cause or event that has upset him. Who is going to do this when parents like me choose to drive because the school is now significantly farther from our homes?
Perhaps these relatively “intangible and immeasurable items” are too idyllic and easy to ignore. Let us turn our thoughts to cold, hard facts. It is no surprise that our district, like thousands of districts across the nation, must trim our budget. The question of which programs, staff, and resources should bet cut is a difficult one that must be addressed with care and caution. It has been stated on numerous occasions that Grant Elementary School is the least expensive to renovate and run while the renovations and operating costs of Lincoln and Roosevelt are significantly more. Why would the district ignore these cost savings? Clearly NO school will be renovated in the next few years, so why would the district ignore the opportunity to keep open a school that is in comparison less costly to operate and to seize the opportunity to close one of the schools that is causing a large financial drain?
Additionally, one of the primary complaints that I repeatedly hear is the agony parents have faced when their children must be shuffled between numerous schools while renovations are being completed on their “home” school. At the very minimum, it is only logical to keep Grant open until the renovations are complete? It has been discussed that Grant will be the “swing school” or "hub school" for students when the final two elementary schools are closed for rebuilding. Perhaps the School Board should provide stability for our students by maintaining a school that is already intended to be used as part of the process of improving our district.
And let us not forget that Grant is one of the two highest performing elementary schools in our district. Rated Excellent with Distinction, Grant ought to be considered an anchor to our school system. The formula that Grant uses WORKS!! Why would our School Board consider closing a school ranked so highly?
If the School Board wants to truly gain community support and insure that Lakewood schools remain strong, then it is their onus to be transparent and explain why one school is chosen to close rather than the remaining two. If sound reasoning is used and presented, then the community can move forward and fully support the decision. A lack of explanation resonates with rumor, hidden agendas, distrust, and ultimately lack of community support. I cannot imagine a School Board that would chose to alienate the community it should be relying upon as a partner.