Sunday, May 16, 1999

BRAMBLE DEVELOPMENTAL ACADEMY


Parents losing their contact point

BY LUCY MAY
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Since January, Shanrecca Willis has been helping parents help their kids at Bramble Developmental Academy.

        As the school's family center coordinator, she organized parent activities, sent home newsletters that offer parenting tips, even picked up parents for school conferences and visited homes to find out why students haven't shown up for school.

        But Mrs. Willis is leaving Bramble at the end of this school year, a victim of the Cincinnati Public Schools' budget cuts.

ABOUT BRAMBLE DEVELOPMENTAL ACADEMY
  Where: 4324 Homer Ave., Madisonville
  Enrollment: 301 students in kindergarten through sixth grades, almost equally divided between boys and girls. About 84 percent are black, 12 percent are white and the rest are biracial or another race. 82 percent of students get free or reduced-price lunch. The school also has 37 pre-school children in Head Start.
  Attendance: On average, fewer than 5 percent of students and 4 percent of teachers absent daily.
  Discipline: Six out-of-school suspensions, four expulsions, 21 in-school suspensions and 14 referred to Saturday school. (1998-99 school year)
  Current staff: 16 classroom teachers and 1.5 specialists teaching physical education, art and music. 16.5 instructional assistants.
  Impact of cuts: The school will lose seven full-time and one half-time instructional assistant positions. Because Bramble is adding seventh and eighth grades, the school will gain two classroom teachers and boost its physical education teacher to a full-time position instead of a half-time job.
        At Bramble, a neighborhood elementary school in Madisonville, Principal Christine Robertson and her staff made the difficult decision to cut Mrs. Willis' job — a cut that comes at a time when the public schools are struggling to get parents involved.

        Hers is one of the seven full-time instructional assistants the school will lose next year. A half-time instructional assistant was cut, too. Some cuts were made in order to add an additional classroom teacher in either third or fourth grade to keep class sizes small.

        But the fewer instructional assistants the school has, the less time students will get with teachers.

        And the kids and their parents won't get any time with Mrs. Willis, who says children and parents have sometimes been able to talk to her when they can't talk to anyone else.

        “I don't want to tell parents,” she said. “I don't want them to think they won't get that same help. They just really want someone to talk to.”

        But there won't be someone like Mrs. Willis next year. Next year, teachers and Ms. Robertson will try to reach out to parents at the same time other cuts in the school mean less help in the classroom.

        Janice Glaspie works her way through her 22 second- and third-grade students one recent afternoon. Most are sitting around tables, sorting through piles of plastic coins and fake paper money.

        It's a lesson in math. She's asked the kids to count their money and figure out how much they have. The kids like the play money, but it's hard work for some.

        Lauren Morris, 8, and Amanda Nichting, 10, work through the lesson. After counting all the coins and writing down a total of $6.79, Mrs. Glaspie tells them to show their work.

        That's when it gets interesting.

        First they get a total of $23.19.

        Mrs. Glaspie gives them a friendly smile, saying, “Somehow, that sounds like an awful lot of money.”

        The girls try again.

        They sort the totals and try to add the amounts in groups.

        The teacher swings by again with new advice.

        Finally, 20 minutes later, the girls get it right. The total: $4.79. Mrs. Glaspie draws a big red smile on their paper.

        “You know, I really like the way you persevered,” she tells them. “You kept working and kept working.”

        In classroom after classroom at Bramble, small groups of students work together to solve problems and decipher activities. Having instructional assistants to help classroom teachers manage those groups is important.

        And Bramble's teachers and students will have much less of that help next school year because of the school budget cuts.

        The cuts aren't the school's only concern. Next year, Bramble will add seventh and eighth grades, too.

        Michelle Simpson, a regular volunteer whose husband is a custodian at Bramble, wonders whether the addition of the older kids will bring violence to the small, peaceful school. And she worries her daughter and son will get less attention because of the cuts.

        “Classes and studies should come first,” said Mrs. Simpson, whose sixth-grade daughter has attention deficit disorder. “I just feel like she won't get the attention.”

        There is so much change in the works at Bramble that some parents are thinking about home-schooling their kids, Mrs. Simpson said. But her family is going to stick with the school.

        The school is hiring two new teachers for the seventh and eighth grades. Over the summer, school district crews will install locker rooms and deliver bigger desks and chairs for the older students.

        Teachers worry the change will be as tough for the older kids as it will be for the school.

        But the teachers are working to embrace the change, even voting to change the school's name from Bramble Developmental Academy to Bramble Academy to sound more grown-up next year.

        Ms. Robertson said her goal is to come out of the cuts with an even better instructional program for kids.

        Like Lauren and Amanda, she hopes, Bramble will persevere.

Surgery on the schools
Cuts and reforms: 'This is an issue of survival'
- Bramble parents losing their contact point
Carthage children wil get less indivdual attention
Taft's first problem: Getting students to show up



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