Parents at Wichita’s Woodland Elementary School on Friday were cheering and planning a celebratory pancake feed, relieved to be off a list of suggested school closings.
At the same time, a mom and longtime volunteer at nearby Emerson Open Magnet Elementary was in tears over news that her school could close instead.
“Emerson is like a family – very close-knit, very welcoming,” said Billie Jo Rodriguez, whose son is a fourth-grader at Emerson.
“It feels like we were just swapped out for Woodland.”
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The latest proposal for new school attendance boundaries, presented to a district advisory group this week, calls for the closure of four elementary schools: Emerson, Bryant, Lincoln and Mueller. Officials said they have to close some schools and cut operating costs in order to open new ones being built as part of a $370 million bond issue.
Earlier drafts suggested closing Woodland, a health and wellness magnet in North Riverside, and Payne, a neighborhood school near Harry and Meridian. Parents at both schools started petition drives and rallied to keep the schools open, and later plans dropped them from the closures list.
“It’s a huge relief,” said Renee Boydo, whose son is a second-grader at Woodland.
Beginning in November, shortly after the first boundary plan went public, Boydo launched an online petition drive, handed out fliers in the school carpool lane and lobbied officials to save Woodland.
“Our parents did a great job showing why our school is special and why closing it wouldn’t make sense,” she said. “If we would have just not done anything and waited for the vote, our school might still be closing.”
Superintendent John Allison said Friday that mobilization efforts by parents were “no factor whatsoever” in the revised plan to keep Woodland open and close Emerson, another school of about 200 students less than two miles to the west.
RSP & Associates, a consulting firm hired by the district, “was not privy to petitions,” Allison said. The new proposal “was based on looking at capacity numbers” of schools in the area and finding the most efficient way to shift boundaries, he said.
Emerson, named for poet and essayist Ralph Waldo Emerson, is a pure magnet, which means everyone who wants to attend has to apply. Its “open” approach, designed for students who prefer learning in a less structured environment, was launched in 1975 and was the district’s first magnet program.
Emerson students call teachers by their first names, teachers refer to students as “friends,” and the program focuses on community service and character education.
“We spend a lot of time talking about virtues … (like) compassion, perseverance, generosity, respect, responsibility, honesty,” said principal Bill Savage.
“That’s a carry-over from the early days. We’re building a community, a family environment – that’s always our goal,” he said. “Helping them develop traits that will not just make them successful in school, but throughout life.”
Allison said one option for Emerson families, if it closes, would be the new Lewis Open Magnet under construction near 31st Street South and Seneca. One wing of the school is designed to house 240 students in the Lewis magnet program; two other wings would be a new neighborhood school for 400 students.
“The overhead cost is basically the same for a school of 200 as it is for a school of 400. You know that’s going to have to come into play,” Allison said. “There’s no perfect solution as we move through this.”
Rodriguez, the Emerson mom, said she is trying not to think that far ahead, hoping the newest boundary plan is revised once again and Emerson remains open. Its current building, the former site of Garrison Elementary, which closed in 1985, was built in the mid-1950s.
“Parents who send their kids here, they love that sense of a small school,” she said. “Right now the whole idea (of its potential closing) hasn’t hit me yet.”
Boydo said that although she and other Woodland parents are relieved their school was taken off the list of potential closings, they feel “a little sad about Emerson.”
“This is not an ideal situation at all,” she said. “It’s a sad day when any school closes, especially when it’s not the fault of the school itself, but the budget.”