Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Pasco school district announces possible closing of two more schools

A week after recommending the closure of Lacoochee Elementary in northeastern Pasco County, school district officials have turned their attention to possibly shutting down two west side schools serving primarily low-income students.

Under a plan announced to staff Tuesday, Hudson and Mittye P. Locke elementary schools would close and merge into nearby campuses. Hudson, like Lacoochee, has long been the focus of efforts to turn around lagging student performance on state testing measures, with limited positive results.

The concept, which quickly circulated into the community through social media, also includes the creation of a magnet school at Marlowe Elementary, and the addition of advanced academic offerings at several other elementary schools along the US 19 corridor.

Most of them use only about 80 percent of their capacity, or less, according to district data.

"It makes sense to look at these schools and look for the best use of our capacity, while providing innovative, challenging programs in all of the schools," district spokeswoman Linda Cobbe said.

The concept would shift much of the $11 million in Penny for Pasco funds slated for remodeling Locke to two classroom wing additions at Marlowe, less than two miles away.

Cobbe said a district analysis has determined Locke is "unrenovatable," and that the money could be better spent improving Marlowe.

Marlowe would become a magnet school with room for 1,000 students. Its current capacity is just over 600.

It would absorb some of the Locke students who apply. The others, along with any displaced Marlowe students, would become part of a rezoning into other nearby elementary schools, most of which are within a 5 mile radius of one another.

Discussions on attendance zone changes for these schools would begin in fall 2019, with the actual move targeted for fall 2020.

For the following year, officials are looking into shutting down long struggling Hudson Elementary and sending most of its students to Northwest Elementary, with a smaller number to Gulf Highlands Elementary.

Hudson Elementary has been just over 100 percent of its occupancy, but it's an aging structure, Cobbe said. It also has labored over time to improve its academic performance, having fallen back to a D grade in 2018 after one year earning a C.

It has earned a D or F in the state's test-based accountability system in all but one of the past eight years. The school has been under some form of state or federal oversight since the No Child Left Behind Act measured "adequate yearly progress."

Related:  After years of spiraling downward, will Hudson Elementary finally find success? 

Meanwhile, Northwest Elementary has sat at 80 percent capacity, with Hudson Middle on the same campus at 65 percent. And Northwest is in line for a $9 million renovation, which could be bolstered by some of the money intended for Locke.

Hudson High, also on the same campus, is set for a $24.6 million overhaul.

Cobbe suggested that the proximity of the three schools on one site could lead to a more effective use of the money and the classrooms.

To boost student performance, the district is looking at adding more challenging programs to just about every remaining elementary school on the west side, Cobbe added. Those could include Primary International Baccalaureate, elementary Cambridge and self-contained gifted classes.

Along with those additions, the administration is discussing creating feeder patterns into middle and high schools that would have similar offerings of IB, Cambridge or gifted.

Cobbe said the district recognized that these proposals, which have not been discussed by the School Board, could negatively affect communities that are largely low income.

The same concern has been raised for a recommendation to close Lacoochee Elementary in remote northeastern Pasco, the subject of a board workshop Tuesday morning. Parents in that area have noted that their school is one of the only civic institutions for them, and also that getting to a campus farther away poses logistical and financial problems that could lead to fewer academic options for their children.

Related: Losing enrollment, Pasco County's Lacoochee Elementary School could be shut down 

But "the school district has to focus on student achievement," Cobbe said. "Schools are not built to prop up communities. … Our focus has to be on providing students the best academic opportunities."

Superintendent Kurt Browning told the School Board he believed the proposal would best serve west Pasco children, who he said deserve better.

"If we don't change the way that we think about delivering education to the kids we serve, we are doing them a huge disservice," Browning said. "We are at a crossroads. We have got to make some tough decisions."

He plans to bring the idea to the board for a workshop on Dec. 4 and a vote on Feb. 19.

This is what the email that went out Tuesday morning said:

"Senior staff has been developing plans to provide more innovative academic opportunities for our west side students. Part of the proposal involves redistributing students to under capacity schools. To do that, we are proposing the closure of Mittye P. Locke Elementary School after the 2019-2020 school year.

"Boundaries would be redrawn and current Locke students would be assigned to surrounding schools beginning in August 2020. There will be a rezoning process in the spring of 2020 that will include a public hearing.

"We also are proposing the closure of Hudson Elementary School after the 2020-2021 school year. Current Hudson students would be assigned to either Northwest Elementary or Gulf Highlands Elementary beginning in August 2021. There will be a rezoning process in the spring of 2021 that will include a public hearing.

"Finally, the proposal calls for converting Marlowe Elementary School into a magnet school beginning with the 2020-2021 school year. There would be no school attendance zone for the magnet school and all students would apply through the school choice process.

"The proposals anticipate that all current employees of these schools would remain employed with the district. Some would remain in their current positions, but would move with their students to different schools. Others would fill open positions at other schools.

"We are continuing to refine details, including programmatic changes at several schools, and will share more details as they become available. Thank you."

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