January 22, 2012

Emerson Elementary parents to keep airing concerns over Wichita boundary plan

This week Charity Chapman will once again review her notes and collect her posters — the ones that say “We (heart) Emerson” and “Size matters! Small schools are better!”

This week Charity Chapman will once again review her notes and collect her posters — the ones that say “We (heart) Emerson” and “Size matters! Small schools are better!”

The Wichita mom will gather with others who oppose the closing of four Wichita elementary schools, and they’ll show up at meetings to show and tell school board members how they feel.

“We want them to know they’re not just closing a school,” Chapman said. “They’re breaking up a family.”

A tentative proposal for new school boundaries suggests the closing of Emerson Open Magnet Elementary and three others — Bryant, Lincoln and Mueller — as a cost-cutting measure. District administrators and consultants say they have to close some schools in order to open new ones being built as part of the 2008 bond issue.

“Our feeling is, we don’t want any schools to close,” said Chapman, whose daughters are in fourth and fifth grades at Emerson. She plans to send her two sons, ages 3 and 4, to the magnet school as well.

“But we’re also trying to understand why Emerson got on the list in the first place. Why us?”

Chapman and other parents spent several evenings this month holding signs and voicing concerns during meetings designed to gather feedback on the boundary proposal. They plan to attend the school board’s regular meeting tonight and the next meeting of a district advisory group Thursday.

“They keep saying this is about data and statistics and budget, and that’s true,” she said. “But it’s really about children and what’s best for children.”

Board members tonight will begin sifting through feedback from four community meetings and could begin proposing changes they want consultants or the superintendent’s focus group to consider.

Superintendent John Allison plans to make his final recommendation to the board Feb. 13. Board members are expected to approve new boundaries Feb. 27, in time for the annual Choices Fair on March 1.

The new boundaries would go into effect next school year. Board members will have to decide several other issues before that, including whether some students would be grandfathered in to their current schools.

Officials also haven’t decided what would happen to magnet programs or other special programs if the four elementary schools close. Lincoln and Bryant, for example, have classrooms designed for students with severe disabilities and staff members trained to work with those children.

“You can’t just pick up these kids and drop them anywhere,” said Janessa Scholler, a paraprofessional who works with special-needs children at Bryant Core Knowledge Magnet in west Wichita.

“They’re used to our school and its environment. It’s a challenge for any student to adjust to a new school, but these kids would have a really hard time.”

At recent meetings, she and other parents held a banner covered with more than 400 blue and yellow bulldog paws, each one representing a student or staff member at Bryant.

A title in the middle read, “Your decision impacts each of us.”

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