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Wednesday, April 8,2009

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An elementary school stares down its fate as the Lansing superintendent prepares recommendations for the school board on right sizing.

by Neal McNamara

 


Moores Park Elementary School might be a scary place to be a student.

First, the school sits in the shadow of the Eckert Power Station, its three giant smoke stacks towering over the school like the horns of some giant beast. And secondly, the fate of the school is up in the air after a recent report by the Community Advisory Task Force for Right Sizing recommended it to be closed by the beginning of the next school year.


And although the Moores Park building is important, as indicated by a tour of the school given to this reporter by veteran teacher Becky Stephens, it’s really the program in place at the school that some are worried about disrupting.

As Stephens pointed to a new boiler, new lighting and a new electrical infrastructure put in place to support the school’s computer lab, she described a unique program where struggling youngsters are brought from all over the district to get intensive schooling in math, reading and other subject areas. The school is the only kindergarten through third grade school in the district and it has made adequate yearly progress — the testing benchmark under No Child Left Behind — for the past six years.


“We’re not falling apart; there are no structural issues,” Stephens said. “We’re willing to move the program, but we still need to keep this program available.”

Although the right-sizing committee report has named Moores Park to be closed — likely because its students are coming in from all over the district anyway — no one will find out whether it will actually be closed until Superintendent T.C. Wallace makes his recommendation to the school board April 16.


According to a draft copy of Wallace’s recommendations based on the committee report, the superintendent would ask that two elementary schools be closed before the beginning of the next school year “based on enrollment projections.”

Mount Hope and Grand River elemen tary schools are also under consideration for closing.


Lansing school’s spokeswoman Annie Rzepecki said that Wallace could not be located to comment on his own draft recommendations.

According to the draft, Wallace would also request that another elementary school close by the end of the next school year and another one at the end of the 2012-‘13 school year “based on enrollment projections.”

Ambitiously, Wallace would recommend that four 60,000-square-foot elementary schools be built, with one in each quadrant of the city, between 2010 and 2013. In 2011 and 2012, after the four super-elementary schools would be completed, the process of closing eight more elementary schools would be started.

Wallace calls for a $150 million bond referendum to build the four elementary schools plus a new high school.


The draft recommendations also outline pursuing federal stimulus funds and philanthropic funds in addition to the bond money.

“The document is in no way complete, but gives some indication of how we are proceeding with these recommendations,” Wallace wrote to the board of education in a letter dated March 26. “I am reconvening and expanding my Superintendent’s Advisory Committee because recommendations of this magnitude warrant consistent external scrutiny during the implementation phase of whatever is approved by the board of education.”

Stephens pointed out that former Lansing Mayor David Hollister, one of the principal members of the right-sizing committee, said at a recent community meeting that the Moores Park K-3 program would probably continue, wherever that may be.


“If we need to close the building, we accept that; it’s not about the building,” Stephens said. “We just want a place to continue the program. These are the most struggling kids.”



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