Sunday, March 25, 2001

School plans stir emotions

Discussion of closings prompts action

By Andrea Tortora
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        As Cincinnati Public Schools officials and architects hash out plans to make more than $700 million in improvements at its 77 district buildings, parents, community members and school staff are clamoring for details.

        But they say the information they receive is sometimes incorrect, or only part of a conversation between central office and the Board of Education — not definite decisions.

[photo] Myra Goodson speaks at a meeting about how to save Crest Hills school.
(Brandi Stafford photo)
| ZOOM |
        When parents at Crest Hills read in the Enquirer last week that their school might close in 2003, it was the first time they had heard such news. They called an emergency meeting the next day.

        “What's wrong with Crest Hills?” parent Myra Goodson asked. “Why won't someone just tell me? I want to know.”

        Parents at Sands Montessori understood, because of previous board communications, that their school was scheduled to move to Hyde Park School. A group met last week after they read inthe Enquirer that board members want to investigate moving Sands into the Academy of World Languages. “One of the toughest things that we have to manage is our ability to explore alternatives,” said Rick Williams, board president.

        “All of our conversations are in public. The press attends them and writes about them and suddenly the community thinks there is a decision about their school when it's just a conversation before the school community is engaged.”

        Large school districts across the country are watching Cincinnati schools. They want to see how a low-performing urban district with 42,000 students can upgrade buildings and programs at the same time.

        The conflicts surrounding the process illustrate how difficult it is to restructure and reconfigure Ohio's third-largest school system.

    The Cincinnati Board of Education meets at 7 p.m. Monday at the Education Center, 2652 Burnett Ave., Corryville.
    The board is expected to approve eight facility projects:
    • Window and door replacements at 31 schools.
    • Renovation of Porter School to house a 4-8 Cincinnati Academy of Math and Science program, to open in August 2002.
    • Cosmetic renovations of about $450,000 at the Boudinot Avenue Dater building to house the Carson Montessori program.
    • Renovations at the Carson Montessori building to house a neighborhood school.
    • Renovations and an expansion at Rockdale School to provide more classroom space and a health center in partnership with Children's Hospital Medical Center.
    • Exploration of alternative sites for Sands Montessori.
    • Renovations at Taft High School to house an information technology program for juniors and seniors, beginning in August. Aiken High School renovations, which include a new roof, paving and new stadium lights.
    • Evaluation of the Whittier Annex site to determine whether an elementary school could be built where the former Considine School now stands.
        • Parents and residents are struggling to understand the process and how it will affect their child's school.

        • The Board of Education wants the public to be informed, but also to know that nothing is final until the board takes a vote. Discussions of possibilities and alternatives are just conversations.

        • The administration wants direction from the school board — in the form of a vote — so it can start specific work.

        • At a handful of schools where district officials have met with parents and staff, officials are frustrated to find that school-parent groups designed to help with planning aren't fully functional.

        That won't be the case when planners get to Crest Hills.

        Angered by news the district might dismantle the year-round school, parents, teachers and Principal James Reilly mapped a strategy to save Crest Hills.

        A petition drive is under way this weekend. Signatures will be presented to the school board Monday. Parents Dawn Yates and Heather Tilley were on The Buzz (WDBZ 1230-AM) talking about the situation.

        “How can this happen without anyone knowing?” asked Pamela J. Adams, whose grandson Javonte Anderson is a first-grader at Crest Hills. ""The parents of CPS students should know that we are really the board and the school board will take over if we are not there.”

        3 The school's academic performance is “improving,” with the school showing gains in 23 of 35 accountability areas during the past three years. Mr. Reilly said he will remind board members of the school's progress.

        “My gut feeling is if they are talking two years down the road, I wouldn't put much stock in it,” Mr. Reilly told a school auditorium of about 30 parents and their children. Michael Burson, facilities director, said planning teams at each school will control the school's future design. District officials and board members hope to move forward Monday when the board is expected to approve eight projects.

        But it won't be until December when architects URS/DNK will present a complete master plan with costs, needs and a time line for each building.

        Parents at Crest Hills won't wait that long.

        “This is the board's idea of what they want for our school,” Ms. Yates said. “What the reasons are as to money, the site or our scores — that's all semantics.

        “If they feel our school is not up to par, then they need to get us some help in here to get us up to par and not just say after five years this is not working and shut us down.”

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