A Walk to Polk: Parents Fight to Save Their Neighborhood School

By Jillian Petrus, Reporter

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By Jay Knoll

CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa - Cedar Rapids School district is dealing with a 50-year low in student enrollment.

Because of this, Superintendent Dr. Dave Benson recommended closing Polk and the Monroe Elementary Childhood Center at the end of the year. He also recommended Wilson just serve as a middle school.

“I’m not working right now haven’t been working for a couple of months, I’m looking for something,” said Carletha Mooney. Mooney is a single mom to her 8-year-old son, Antonio, a second grader at Polk Elementary.

Mooney doesn’t have a regular means of transportation. She says knowing Antonio is just a block from the house allows her to catch the bus and look for work without worrying for his safety. She also says Antonio had behavioral issues before coming to Polk. Now, he’s doing better in school.

“I hear them tell the kids all the time we’re preparing ya’ll for college,” Mooney says, “You don’t hear most schools telling kids that or doing the things that they’re doing. They work round-the-clock with these kids.”

Just a few blocks over, Jeth Johnson and daughter Isabelle make their walk to Polk. Isabelle is in the school’s elementary program and meets with a speech teacher.

“My wife leaves for work at six in the morning. For awhile, we didn’t have a car,” says Johnson. “It’s been a miracle being able to walk to school. We wouldn’t have been able to survive if we wasn’t here.”

After walking Isabelle to school, Johnson takes his 3-year-old son to work with him. Johnson does small contract work for his landlord.

Stories like Johnson and Mooney are the reasons Polk parents like, Jennifer Hill, are fighting so hard to save the school from closure.

“Teachers send snacks and food home with the kids on the weekend, because they know some maybe won’t eat,” Hill says,”But here, it’s not unheard of or out of the ordinary, our teachers are used to dealing with it.”

Almost 90 percent of families at Polk qualify for free and reduced lunch. Hill worries other schools in the district might not be prepared to handle the particular needs of Polk students outside of the classroom.

“Even when there’s kids struggling,” says Johnson, “I see them out in the hallway with them talking one-on-one just taking time out. I don’t understand their full reason for wanting to shut Polk down, especially because it does so well.”

In 2010-2011, Polk scored 79 percent proficiency in math and reading at a fourth grade level. A decade high for the elementary.

Hill and other parents have collected more that 1500 signatures asking school board members to save Polk. The board makes their final decision on Monday, March 12, at 5 p.m. in the Grantwood AEA building, 4401 Sixth St. SW.

“Hopefully they’ll see the value of this school to the community,” says Hill, “and they will take that into consideration.”
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