Students Eager About Cedar Rapids Schools' Future

By Jillian Petrus and Meredith Hines-Dochterman

CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa - Taylor Griffith wanted to know where she'd spend her fifth grade year if Madison Elementary School closed.

Taylor's mom, Pam Griffith, wanted to know, too, so the pair attended the Cedar Rapids school district's enrollment and facilities study forum Thursday.

"I like that they've been making the public more aware of the process, so that you can come and ask questions," Griffith said.

She had a question about busing. No one was able to tell her what would happen if her son, currently an eighth grader at Roosevelt Middle School, chose to attend Kennedy instead of Jefferson, but Griffith will get an answer.

"They took down my information and said they'd e-mail me," she said.

The public forum marked the first time parents and members of the community could share their concerns about the school closure discussion and potential boundary changes. The public has had the opportunity to comment on the proposals during school board meetings, but Thursday was an opportunity for a back-and-forth conversation with school administrators, board members and the consultants who completed the enrollment and facility studies.

"It still makes me very upset," Hawa Darbo, a Polk Elementary School parent, said. "I don't see any reason to close that school. That school is our home."

Roughly 200 people attended the forum, some staying a few minutes and others who spent more than an hour reviewing the information on display at Grant Wood AEA.

"I think this has made me more aware of how the decisions for the proposals were made," said Jen Kovach, a Madison Elementary School parent. Kovach also is co-president of the school's PTA. "It's made me more knowledgeable about what information the district wants from us."

Any parent, Kovach said, is going to say that their child's school is the best and should remain open. Madison supporters have worked to provide information that shows why it isn't a good decision to close Madison.

Superintendent Dave Benson has repeatedly said that public input is a crucial part of the enrollment and facility study. Comments cards asking what recommendations the public had regarding the district's declining enrollment and unbalanced populations in the schools were available. These cards will be scanned this weekend and available on the district's website at www.cr.k12.ia.us Monday.

The district launched the enrollment and facility studies during the 2010-11 school year. The studies were conducted by RSP & Associates of Overland Park, Kan., and by Shive-Hattery Inc., respectively, with findings shared with school board members in May and June.

Benson named the members of his Enrollment Study Stakeholder Committee in July. The committee had its first meeting in August, meeting twice a month through late December. It was at that last meeting the committee settled on five proposals – two elementary, one middle school and two high schools – that could close elementary schools and redraw school boundary lines.
Elementary proposal 1 includes the closing of Harrison, Monroe and Polk elementary schools. Grant Early Childhood Center would become a K-5 facility and Wilson Middle School would serve sixth through eighth grade students. Proposal 2 is essentially the same, only it has Madison Elementary closing instead of Harrison.

Both high school proposals change the current high school boundary lines. The difference between the two proposals are the elementary schools that feed into the high schools.

The district will host a second public forum Thursday at Kennedy High School. This forum, to be held from 4 to 7 p.m., will be the last public input session before Benson makes his recommendations to the school board on Feb. 13.

Board members will vote on those recommendations on March 12.
Taylor, 9, hopes board members won't vote to close Madison.

"I like the teachers," she said. "They're very nice."
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