Emory Elementary hosted its first community meeting about the possible elementary school consolidations presented to the Jefferson County Board of Education by the Public School District.
Parents questioned staff of both Emory and Lasley — the school potentially absorbing Emory — along with District and Board members on Sept. 13 about the methodology of which schools were chosen, how Lasley Elementary would fare with the increase of students and what would happen to the dual language program.
With about 80 people in attendance, Community Superintendent Donetrus Hill began the meeting by speaking on the consolidations in general. He explained that the goal was “equitable opportunities for all students, teachers and families,” and that fewer schools would allow “fewer, more equitable resource-intensive programs.”
Anticipating questions parents might have, Hill said that the Affective Needs program at Emory would go to Rose Stein International Elementary, and the dual language program would be added to Lasley.
Because Lasley would be the elementary school for the area if consolidation occurs, students would be automatically enrolled in Lasley for the next school year, Hill added. He elaborated that parents could also choice out, and that the school would be reaching out individually to help if parents had questions.
The estimated student body at Lasley if it does absorb Emory would be 445-559, with no overcrowding expected, and no curriculum changes, according to Hill.
There were multiple questions from parents on why Emory was chosen to potentially close when it had greater capacity than Lasley.
“Why not close two [schools], and make [Emory] one humongous schoo?” asked one parent.
Lisa Relou, chief strategy and communications officer for the District, reiterated the criteria the District used to choose schools, which included whether enrollment was “less than 220 K-2, K-5, K-6 students,” or the school as using 45 percent or less of its capacity and there was another school less than 3.5 miles away that could absorb those students — Emory fit the latter.
“I don’t get to make the decisions, I just get to make sense of the decisions,” said Lisa Mahannah, Emory’s principal. Multiple parents spoke up though, saying, “You already made the decision,” and “This is just for show.”
They continued that they felt the staff were discussing the decision as final and already made, to applause from the room.
The capacity of Lasley was questioned multiple times further in different regards.
One parent asked whether the smaller building could realistically handle the dual language program — which would require four classrooms for each grade level. Relou responded that with a 5th-grade class graduating, a kindergarten class leaving and the Affective Needs program going to Rose Stein, the District was confident it could fit capacity fine. Mahannah added that they would not be “stuffing” 30 kids into one class, either.
Further questions asked what would happen to staff. Mahannah said certified and non-probationary teachers would need to re-interview for a position, but they were guaranteed a place in the District. “The District needs to retain its employees, as much as it needs to retain you,” Mahannah continued.
One parent in attendance was Flor Contreras, who is also a 3rd-grade Spanish Dual Language program teacher at Emory. She explained that she became a teacher to be with the kids at Emory, and asked whether she “had a chance, or should just move on,” in regards to the decision to consolidate. She would have to look for another job, she explained, as she is a probationary teacher. Mahannah responded that if a teacher wants to stay with the students, they should, and that she would advocate for that.
Contreras explained after the meeting that this school year has been her first as a teacher, and has described the possibility of consolidation as “feeling like I’m being ripped from my community.”
A final question was on whether the District was looking at why enrollment was decreasing. The question was directed at 2nd Vice President of the Board of Education Susan Miller, who was in attendance. She said that the Board has spoken to their GIS team to look at where kids are going instead, and using exit interviews with leaving parents to gather data. Relou described the declining enrollment issue as “kicking the can down the road,” having not dealt with it before now.
The final vote by the Board of Education on the consolidation plans will be on Nov. 10. There will be another community meeting for Emory at 5 p.m. on Oct. 11, and a public hearing at 5 p.m. on Nov. 3 at Alameda International Junior/Senior High School.