Sunday, March 11, 2001

District may reopen school

Plan in works to shift elementary students

By Lori Hayes
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        COVINGTON - Covington Independent Schools is considering reopening Fourth District Elementary, nearly three years after the district shut down the school despite strong protests from parents and community members.

        School officials are working on a redistricting plan for next school year that will shift the district's elementary students. The details are not set, but Covington Superintendent Jack Moreland said bringing back Fourth District, 1516 Scott St. is an option.

        “Closing Fourth District was probably a mistake,” said board member Col Owens, who voted in favor of the closing in 1998. “If we reopen it, we can better serve the people in our community.”

    Covington Independent Schools is working on a plan to more evenly distribute elementary students among its schools, particularly the district's black students.
    Here's how things now look:
    • First District Elementary: 354 students, 57 percent black.
    • Glenn O. Swing Elementary: 502 students, 26 percent black.
    • John G. Carlisle Elementary: 404 students, 23 percent black.
    • Latonia Elementary: 545 students, 3 percent black.
    • Ninth District Elementary: 498 students, 24 percent black.
    • Sixth District Elementary: 472 students, 18 percent black.
        District officials are working with city planners to develop new boundary lines for the elementary schools. Mr. Moreland said he expects to take some proposals to the community and the school board next month.

        The redistricting is in response to last year's state audit, which pointed to crowding at Glenn O. Swing Elementary, 501 W. 19th St., which has more than 500 students. But district officials also want to create a better racial and economic balance among students at its six elementary schools.

        More than half of First District Elementary's students are black, while just 3 percent of Latonia Elementary's students are black.

        About 22 percent of the district's 4,500 students are African-American; the total minority enrollment is about 27 percent. Roughly 70 percent of the district's students receive free- or reduced-price lunches, which is a measure of poverty.

        The school board closed Fourth District in June 1998 because of declining enrollment and sent its 370 students to three other schools - First District, Sixth District and Glenn O. Swing elementary schools.

        James Kemp, then superintendent, said a study of district needs and classroom space showed the district did not need seven elementary buildings. The district did need a place to house alternative education programs for students who need extra help.

        City leaders and parents opposed the board's decision, criticizing the district for acting with out community input. Some parents filed an injunction request in Kenton Circuit Court to stop the closing.

        Fourth District now houses the Covington Academy of Renewal Education, or CARE, the district's alternative school, which serves about 130 students. District officials are looking for other possible locations for the program.

        Mr. Moreland is also considering a partnership with the Learning Academy, a cooperative alternative program that serves 11 Northern Kentucky school dis tricts, to serve some of Covington's students who need alternative services.

        Although Covington's enrollment has been declining since the 1950s, Mr. Moreland said a seventh elementary school will help keep all the schools more manageable, relieving some of the larger schools. Enrollment at the current six schools ranges from 350 to 550.

        “Small elementary schools are better from a learning standpoint,” he said. “The fewer kids we have in a facility, the better we'll be able to reach the individuals.”

        Covington is under the state's microscope as it works to improve its test scores, among the lowest in the state. Plus, district leaders are advocating neighborhood schools as a way to increase parent and community involvement.

        “Neighborhood schools make a lot of sense,” Mr. Owens said. “That's where people live, where people know each other. It's a comfortable setting. ... It could do a lot of things for families in our community.”


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