GRANITE CITY — “We cannot remain status quo” was the mantra of Granite City School District Superintendent Jim Greenwald as he announced the closing of the Early Childhood Center.
“Major change is not easily embraced,” Greenwald said of the controversial decision during a Jan. 12 meeting at the Granite City High School Performing Arts Center.
Rumors that the center would be closed and its classrooms relocated have been a source of discussion since November. Grandparent and retired early childhood and special education teacher Linda Knogl, speaking on behalf of Granite City Parents for Children FIRST, has been proactive in opposing the district’s restructuring plan, as well as bringing the controversy to the public’s attention.
“It is funded through a grant that may be jeopardized if these classrooms are dispatched to the district’s elementary buildings,” Knogl said. “This is grant money our district cannot afford to lose.”
On Tuesday night, Knogl was joined by parents Summer Moore, Tonya Wallace and Katie Meyer in the presentation of four three-minute comments to the board. Knogl collected 300 petitions for the meeting.
Moore voiced the importance of maintaining the stability the Early Childhood Center provides, claiming that the reformation of schools could deprive children of the only daily stability in their lives as well as the depletion of vital family time. Meyer protested the “vague non-answers” presented by the school board and further claimed that “ambiguous answers are unacceptable.” Meyer also presented the claim that the process by which the school board presented information was “not in line with best practices or good school board ethics.”
The plan involves the closure of two attendance locations — Worthen and Lake — and the utilization of Prather Attendance Center for pre-kindergarten and kindergarten students. According to the presentation, 45 classrooms across the district are either vacant or underused and the restructuring plan would satisfy the educational goals of keeping the pre-k program intact, improving the pre-k to kindergarten transition, sharing of early intervention strategies among pre-k and kindergarten staff, greater opportunity for grade level planning, a greater sharing of teacher resources, better alignment of grade level curriculum, greater control and consistency of class size, less educational impact on family mobility, and increase of student support services due to decreased staff travel time.
The financial goals addressed by the restructuring plan include the closure of two attendance locations, reduction of overhead by using available space efficiently, the allowance for a reduction of staff through attrition, sharing of instructional resources and greater control of staffing needs.
After Greenwald’s presentation on the financial and educational goals of the restructuring plan, the board voted for approval.
Following the meeting, Knogl admitted that she “expected the outcome.”
“I wonder if — given the opportunity — the school board would have approached the issue in the same way again given the public reaction,” she said. “I think that the results would be better through open forums and the resulting greater community comfort.
“We are disappointed in the vote but Granite City Parents for Children FIRST will continue to place our children’s interests, safety and education first. The unethical disregard for not including the community in early and timely informational forums has raised questions as to the trustworthiness and stewardship of our school board.”
Greenwald addressed concerns raised by parents and members of Knogl’s group.
“We never once considered program dissipation for the Early Childhood Center,” he said. “This stems back to the Oct. 11 meeting held with director Paula Hubbard and the entire staff at the center. There were rumors abounding, but — as you know — anxious anticipation solves no problems. I don’t expect a common agreement, but the children at the center have always been a prime concern.”
Greenwald goes on to explain the concerns of “satelliting the programs out” which would “not be the best for the program”: “The pre-k program has been structured into the entire district plan so that it may flourish and continue. As I spoke to the staff at the first meeting, we are not doing away with the program. We just need to be allowed to do our job and put things in place.”
On the topic of construction and finance, Greenwald said the district is not going to spend a large amount of money on any retrofitting adjustments to physical buildings but explains there will be necessary adjustments for the smaller child.
“I honestly think that Prather is awesome,” he said. “It’s large, spacious, beautiful and all around a very good home that teachers, students and parents will be proud of. It’s incredibly conducive to the educational process.”
He went on to say the Granite City district is not doing deep cuts like some other districts in the region.
“This plan will be much less tedious on parents for understanding boundaries,” he said. “We’ll provide ample and specific information for parents before the 2016-17 school year. Where to attend, class times, everything.”
Restructuring and implementation of attendance centers is a “sign of the times,” according to Greenwald.
“Our idea of the neighborhood school is a thing of the past,” he said. “That idea has evolved somewhat into the district center model.”
On the concerns raised about transportation, Greenwald described a situation the district faced in the recent past.
“Two years ago, we implemented a $300,000 savings by eliminating transportation for the regular education students at the Early Childhood Center, and the program did not suffer as a result,” he said. “We would never put any unreasonable expectation on parents. Parents will be given ample notification of appropriate drop-off/pick-up times, and we still provide the mandatory transportation for special needs students at their attendance center.
“The change in venues will have no bearing on current transportation policies, and regular bus service will be provided for K-12 students with specific bus routes and times to be released closer to the beginning of the school year.
“I believe the parents, once the plan transpires, will see that it is a good plan for the education of their students,” Greenwald said.
An open house is scheduled for the spring, and Greenwald assures parents they will be kept informed of upcoming meetings.
To view the board’s presentation of the district restructuring plan, visit http://advnews.link/1SZpbic. For public response and community reaction to this issue, visit the committee's Facebook page at http://advnews.link/1Pmqj9X.