Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Five Of Nine School Board Members Show Up To Meet With Jones Paideia PTO On Planned School Closing

Jones Paideia PTO President, Helen Koudelkova, told me that they met with five of the nine School Board members last night to discuss their "interest and concerns" about plans to close the school. Ms. Koudelkova characterized the meeting as "productive."

She also fowarded me the final petition against closing the Jones School, which is being sent to Dr. Pedro Garcia. It included 378 signatures. After reading the final draft, I have to admit that I am even more confused as to the reasoning behind the closing plans.

Here are a few details that might daze and discombobulate you as well:
  • Dr. Garcia's rationale for closing specific schools is that they are small; however, Jones is not small by the district's own standards. According to the petition:
    • Jones Paideia is neither a “small” nor undercapacity school by any of the definitions so far set out by the School Board .... the district was asked to look at schools under 300 for possible closure. Our current enrollment of 326 not only puts us above that mark but makes us larger than at least 20 other elementary schools in the district. It is also important to note that this year we were relocated out of the center of town to the Brick Church campus in northwestern Davidson County in order for our building to be renovated. This move resulted in the loss of a number of previous and prospective students, particularly from the south side of town, due to the significant increase in distance and travel time for many of them.
  • Dr. Garcia's rationale on closings is to save money without sacrificing quality; yet, the logic on Jones seems to be to try to fix something that ain't broke. According to the petition:
    • Jones Paideia is a highly successful program—we consistently have some of the best performance scores in the district and have met or exceeded every benchmark. For example, our 2005 TCAP scores showed 93.5% proficiency in Reading/Language and 89.4% in Math. We have a well-established program that is achieving excellent results and our kids are happy and thriving. In fact, our school was recently invited by the National Paideia Center to become a “demonstration school” for people around the country to come and see how we do things. However, the proposed merger with John Early [Middle Paideia] would, in effect, involve a complete restructuring of our program.
  • Dr. Garcia's rationale includes the motivation to do what is in the best interests of our children's development; yet, merging Jones and Early stand to undermine student development. According to the petition:
    • "Researchers have found that large schools have a more negative impact on minority and low-[socio-economic-status] students than on students in general,” making school size an equity issue. (It is also worth noting in this regard that, in its previously referenced report on K-8 school configuration, the Peoria, IL School Board cites exactly these considerations in recommending the design of K-8 schools of no more than 500 students.) [Jones Paideia] is currently more than 90% African American and 50% free and reduced lunch, and John Early is, according to the Tennessee Dept. of Education 2005 Report Card, more than 95% African American and nearly 70% economically disadvantaged. That is, the populations our two schools serve are precisely those which would be most adversely affected by merging the two programs to create a large school of more than 600 students.
  • Dr. Garcia rationalizes closings to save money; yet, closing Jones seems to represent either a net loss or the bad management of a good investment. According to the petition:
    • Per Metro Schools Planning and Construction, significant capital expenditures of nearly $500,000 have gone into necessary upgrades and improvements to the Jones building in just the last several years, including $418,663 for an ADA compliance project completed in August of 2003, $7,156 for asbestos abatement, and $62,946 to replace the roof this past summer of 2005. In addition, well over $200,000 more has been spent within the past year in connection with the planned renovation of our building: $138,217 for architect design fees, $19,951 for bidding expenditures, and $64,000 to move portables from the property in order for renovations to begin. And this figure does not include the cost of moving the contents of the school to Brick Church, the stipends paid to teachers for the additional work of first dismantling and then setting up their classrooms, or contractor fees for mobilization and work done in the Jones building so far. All told, nearly $1 million dollars has been invested in the Jones building over the last three years.
    • The Executive Director of Facilities & Operations [acknowledges] that some modifications to the John Early building would be necessary in order to move our elementary program there. If these modifications are to be extensive enough to make the space genuinely adequate for our needs, they will require a substantial capital investment .... [W]e ... question the wisdom of investing large sums of money to, in effect, renovate a building that is only a few years old versus going ahead with the renovations to our existing building, which have already been started and would result in our having more appropriate facilities designed to elementary specifications.
If you can defy perplexity and discern the merits of our school district's rationale for closing Jones Paideia, well, by all means, explain it to those of us for whom the logic fails. Otherwise, we might be prone to see the plans as a component of Dr. Garcia's rumored running feud with Mayor Purcell, whose daughter reportedly attended Jones Paideia at one time.

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