November 29, 2011

Wichita parents rally to keep two elementary schools open

Parents at two Wichita elementary schools have started petition drives and are rallying support in hopes of keeping their schools from closing.

Parents at two Wichita elementary schools have started petition drives and are rallying support in hopes of keeping their schools from closing.

“I decided I’m not going to stand around and wait. I have to do something,” said Renee Boydo, whose son is a second-grader at Woodland Health and Wellness Magnet.

“This is a wonderful school. I love it, the neighborhood loves it, and our children just flourish here. This is a community.”

A first-draft proposal for new school attendance boundaries presented to an advisory group earlier this month suggests closing five schools — Bryant, Lincoln, Mueller, Payne and Woodland.

It also recommends opening two new elementary schools and two K-8 schools, expanding eight others and substantially shifting where students in some parts of the city attend school.

District officials have cautioned residents not to panic over the proposal, which Superintendent John Allison called “a beginning point for discussion.”

“That list (of potential closings) may shrink, that list could grow,” he told board members Monday.

“It’s not about one school being better than another. It’s really about data driving those decisions, the analytical approach.”

But the district’s time frame is tight — the school board intends to approve new boundaries by late February — so parents like Boydo say they have to act now.

She has launched an online petition to save Woodland, a school of about 300 students in Wichita’s North Riverside neighborhood, and has handed out fliers in the school carpool lane as well.

“Woodland is a piece of this district that our kids cannot do without,” the petition reads. “Please help save our children’s future!!”

Similarly, Stephanie Ham is trying to mobilize support for Payne Elementary, where she serves as president of the Parent-Teacher Organization.

“I know they have to cut costs,” she said. “But I don’t want our kids getting left on the sidelines or ending up at overcrowded schools.”

Rob Schwarz of RSP & Associates, a consulting firm hired by the district, said the schools suggested for closure were chosen based on size, location and age as well as the need for the district to operate more efficiently.

According to the draft, many students in the area near Woodland would go to Riverside Elementary or OK Elementary.

Students in the neighborhood near Payne — many of whom walk to school now — would travel past several other schools on their way to a new school being built near Seneca and 31st Street South.

So far there is no plan for what would happen to Woodland’s magnet program, which focuses on healthy eating and exercise.

“People are, to be honest, upset and angry and scared,” said Boydo, the Woodland mom. “The purpose of Woodland is to give people the option of going to a school that is smaller, and this is a program that doesn’t exist anywhere else in the district.”

Sharon Powell Quincy, president of the North Riverside Neighborhood Association, said closing small neighborhood schools like Woodland goes against what was promised to voters in the 2008 bond issue.

“They promoted the bond issue as a way to preserve neighborhood schools,” she said. “There are families who look for homes or locate to this neighborhood because of the school.

“It’s a deterioration of a neighborhood when a school in the neighborhood closes.”

Several dozen parents, teachers and supporters of Woodland met earlier this week at Woodland United Methodist Church to plan a strategy for saving the school. Boydo said the group plans to attend the school board meeting Monday and picket the next meeting of the boundary focus group on Dec. 15.

“By enough of us showing up, they’ll at least have an idea that we are here, we are not going away,” she said. “They need to give a lot more detailed information on why these schools were chosen.”

Board member Lynn Rogers, whose district includes Woodland, said he understands the parents’ concerns but added, “It’s still way premature to make any assumptions or predictions.

“There’s still a lot in my mind that has to be answered,” said Rogers, who also serves on the boundary focus group. “I imagine there will be a lot of changes to this supposal.”

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