What to do about Southside
A robust debate over the future of Southside Fundamental Middle School has unfolded on two recent threads in The Gradebook, so an update seems in order.
The controversy centers on a proposal by the St. Petersburg chapter of the NAACP to move Southside to Thurgood Marshall Fundamental Middle School. At least four School Board members have expressed interest in hearing more about the merits of that idea. But the board has given preliminary approval to something quite different: moving Southside to Madeira Beach Middle and allowing Southside students who can’t make the drive to enroll at Thurgood Marshall as an alternative.
So we asked one key board member what she thought. Mary Brown (right) was one of the four board members who last week wanted to hear more about the NAACP’s proposal. She said today it now seems clear that there’s not enough room at Marshall to make the proposal work. She added: “No one should be displaced at (Marshall). It’s a good school.”
Brown said she was heartened by the pushback she’s heard from Marshall parents, who have called, e-mailed and stopped her in the grocery store. “They want to keep their school,” Brown said. “That is very positive.”
She said the district’s original plans for Southside students are sound. “Wherever they go I don’t believe they will miss a beat,” Brown said. “It will be a new experience and it will be a good experience.”
We also spoke with NAACP president-elect Ray Tampa (left), who floated the idea of moving Southside to Marshall at last week’s marathon public hearing on district budget cuts. Tampa also toured Marshall this week. He said he remains convinced that moving Southside to Marshall is a good idea and that moving it to Madeira Beach Middle is not.
“We don’t want to see such a successful program just up and moved out of the city,” said Tampa, a former Southside parent and a retired Pinellas principal. “We want Southside to remain intact.”
He said his group initially based its proposal on information that Marshall had room for about 1,200 students. That was true when the school opened in 2003. But it's no longer true under the class size amendment, which reduces the number of kids that school buildings can accommodate. District officials say Marshall’s capacity stands at about 950; the school has 750 students this year. There would seem to be far too few seats at Marshall to accommodate a wholesale move-in of Southside.
News of the smaller enrollment at Marshall has not changed Tampa’s opinion. “I’ll leave it to the school district administration to decide how (a move) should occur,” he said. “Our recommendation is what it is, and we haven’t changed that.”
The picture should be clearer tomorrow, when the School Board meets in a workshop to discuss the Southside move and numerous other issues related to the budget cuts.