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Polk Elementary: One Year Later After Closing

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CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa - Seventeen months after the Cedar Rapids Community School District chose to close two elementary schools, the building that held Polk Elementary still gets plenty of use.

"We serve about 100 meals every night (during the school year)," said Sheila Lehman, the district's executive director of special services. "On Thursday nights, Young Parents Network comes in and there's 80 to 100 people and families that come."

From late August through early June, district leaders say that Polk still serves people between 12 to 14 hours each school day. Lehman said, along with programs for students with substantial learning challenges, the Young Parents Network, Tanager Place and before and after school programs with the Boys & Girls Club make use of the facilities.

In early 2012, the CRCSD chose to close Polk and Monroe Elementary, citing budget concerns and enrollment shifts as more people within the district were moving north and west. The closing of Polk brought out visible and vocal opposition through the Mound View neighborhood.

The decision also had a dramatic socioeconomic component throughout the process as the district reported nearly 90% of Polk students during the 2011-12 academic year received free or reduced lunch.

CRCSD Deputy Superintendent Mary Ellen Maske acknowledged the emotions present with a school closing and said, a year after Polk students attended school elsewhere in 2012-13, the transition went smoothly.

"It went remarkably well and it wasn't by accident that happened," said Maske. "(Parents) were given the opportunity to attend nine of the elementary schools in our district."

Maske said, out of about 180 Polk students affected, about "30 each" shifted to Johnson, Arthur, Garfield and Taylor schools. Taylor, as Polk had been through 2012, kept a year-round academic schedule.

Two former Polk parents, who had been vocal in their opposition to the Polk closing, now have students outside of the district.

Jen Hill is a mother of three boys.

"The transition itself to the new school (Garfield) actually went fairly smoothly," said Hill. "They tried very hard to make the kids feel welcome."

Hill lives three blocks from Polk and said, for this year, her two elementary school-age sons will attend class in the Marion Independent School District.

"Here at Polk, they had worked out to where the community bought in, the families had bought in and the staff had bought in," said Hill.

Sue Nading also attended district meetings in the weeks leading to the Polk closure. Her son is about to begin his second year at Summit Schools, a private school.

"We all make difficult choices as parents and families and we understand this but hoped to have more interaction with the school board members and the general public," said Nading. "I know they gave us more choice (on schools to attend) but I would have liked more face-to-face interaction with the school board members."

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