Parents at top-rated Lakeview Fundamental School are upset and perplexed. Why would the Pinellas County School District disrupt an excelling program and merge it with another that has struggled?
The mothers gathered Thursday to talk about their concerns were no-nonsense and passionate. On the table was a sheet of paper with some of their PTA's concerns:
"How will the county help maintain the high academic standards (at Lakeview)?"
"How do these additional seats impact the availability of fundamental middle school seats for rising fifth-graders?"
"Will our teachers and staff be moving to the new fundamental campus?"
At the crux of the matter is a proposal to expand Lakeview's fundamental program by almost 300 students with a move to the large campus of D-rated Gulfport Elementary School. Gulfport students will have the option to join the fundamental program, but the school's small Montessori program will move into the newly vacant Lakeview.
Deputy superintendent Jim Madden said the district had two things in mind: "One, eliminate a school within a school program at an elementary school. Two, create additional fundamental seats in the district.''
For the Lakeview parents, the matter is more complex. They say they're afraid the change will compromise discipline, dilute academic standards and dissolve their well-honed community of children, parents and teachers. They also believe that the arrangement giving Gulfport students priority for coveted fundamental slots will circumvent the application process and give places to parents who don't necessarily share the fundamental school philosophy.
"The buy-in might not be there,'' said Lakeview PTA president Renee Savic. "Most of us chose the fundamental program because of the family commitment, so many of the families volunteer. We attend the PTA. We have to sign the homework and be accountable. … We are not against the move. We want support in the transition. We want someone to help these children coming in to be part of our family.''
Madden promised the district will have the same "fidelity'' to the expanded fundamental program.
"We believe that we will end up with two highly rated schools by making this move,'' he said.
He said informational sessions are planned for Gulfport parents to help them understand the fundamental program. "I would venture to say there are very few parents who don't want the kinds of things that a fundamental school offers,'' he said.
In a letter to School Board member Robin Wikle, Lakeview PTA vice president of enrichment Katie Johnson noted that there are "hundreds of children'' on the waiting list for fundamental schools.
"These parents have waded through the entire 'lottery process' and are patiently waiting for seats to open up. How are they going to feel when the '300 new fundamental seats' are given to families who did not desire to go through the process to be in a fundamental school in the first place? What about the siblings of current Lakeview students? Should they not receive priority admittance?'' Johnson asked.
Madden confirmed that Gulfport students will "get the right of first refusal'' for the fundamental slots. He said Lakeview siblings will get priority for kindergarten slots and move to the top of the waiting list for upper grades.
Last year Lakeview Fundamental received an A under the state's grading system, which is based on scores and gains on the FCAT. Gulfport Elementary, which dropped from a C to a D last year, has struggled over the past decade or so. In 2002 it got an F, but improved to a C in 2003. That was the year the federal government announced that the school had failed to meet "adequate yearly progress" under the No Child Left Behind Act of 2002. The Montessori program, "a school within a school," was launched in 2001. It had a waiting list for kindergarten this year.
"When we look at the students in the Montessori program, they are doing well. We didn't want to disband that program,'' Madden said.
Lisa Grant, named Gulfport's principal in 2003, is enthusiastic about the proposal to move the fundamental program to her school.
"It's truly an opportunity for the fundamental program to have more seats,'' she said. About 82 percent of her students qualify for free and reduced lunch.
"A child that's on free or reduced lunch, they have just as much capability,'' she said. "I think that parents that choose to be part of the fundamental program … would be very involved.''
Shaneeka Nixon, who has a second-grader at Gulfport, is pleased at the prospect of having him attend a fundamental school.
"I try to volunteer to go on field trips and to go to school, show my face and make sure my son is doing all that he has to do and to have communication with the teacher,'' she said.
A few miles away at Lakeview, principal Susan Garcia-Nikolova, in her second year at the school, also is optimistic.
The concerns of Lakeview parents are not being ignored, Madden said.
"That's why we're setting up the parent meetings'' to talk to parents "face to face,'' he said.
"It's not a final deal until Dec. 7.''
Waveney Ann Moore can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 892-2283.