Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Parents’ views mixed on proposal to shut down Pasco’s Mittye P. Locke Elementary

Crossing guard Loretta Frye stood at her usual corner of Trouble Creek Road and Evans Avenue on Wednesday morning, helping neighborhood children and their parents get safely to Mittye P. Locke Elementary School.

She was shocked to learn of the Pasco County school district's proposal to close the campus in fall 2020 as part of a larger plan to consolidate student seats and improve academic offerings in the largely low-income area along the U.S. 19 corridor.

Related: Pasco school district announces possible closing of two more schools 

"Don't let them do that," Frye said. "The kids are very happy going to school here."

So, too, are many of the parents who moved into the neighborhood specifically for Mittye P. Locke, which unlike many of the other nearby campuses has been earning B's in the state's accountability system.

"It's one of the better rated schools in New Port Richey," observed Dr. Kimberly Barnes, as she walked her three children to classes. "When I was looking for a house, that's what I was looking for. Maybe they'll change their minds."

Alyssa and Bow Hempus said they liked the smallness that Locke offers, because it allows children to receive more individualized attention.

"If you put more kids in the classroom, it creates an overbearing work load for teachers and minimizes individual attention for the kids," Bow Hempus said, after delivering their son to his kindergarten class. "It's then easier for them to get lost in the system. And, it's a waste of resources to abandon a building."

Rebecca Miller said she would fight to keep Mittye P. Locke open. She said her two children love the school and their teachers, and the location is convenient for people who don't have transportation.

"Out of all the schools that are close, this is the best rated school," Miller said, suggesting perhaps some other location might be shuttered instead.

District officials said they have focused on Locke because it is in line for renovations, but the structure is not necessarily worth investing more money into.

"I know it's probably a money thing," Miller said. "But it's a shame to jeopardize our kids' education just to save a few bucks."

Not everyone shared that perspective.

Richard Thomas said the reasons the district has offered for consolidating schools sounded sensible.

"If they're going to save money and not increase taxes, it might be a good idea," Thomas said as he walked his son to school. "As long as children are going to a good school, and don't have to go too far, I don't see anything wrong with it."

Unlike Lacoochee Elementary in remote northeastern Pasco, which also is proposed for closing, Locke sits in a residential area where several other schools are within a five mile radius. Many of them are under capacity, as well.

Mariya Wyatt, owner of nearby Little Bravehearts Preschool, said the short-term prospects of closing Locke were "disheartening" for the tightly knit community.

"We love all of the teachers there. They're very supportive of the kids," Wyatt said, adding that the preschoolers she knows have made great strides in Locke's prekindergarten and Head Start programs.

She raised transportation concerns, too, for parents who would face longer walks or commutes to their children's new schools.

Longer term, though, Wyatt suggested if the district's plans for added advanced academic programs comes to fruition, "it will enhance the community."

Seeing the promise become reality is one of the concerns that has arisen, though. Some parents observed on social media that the district did not provide all the supports and services promised to Ridgewood High students as they transferred in the wake of their school closure this fall, and predicted the same could hold true for these children.

One former student has started an online petition to save the school. In less than a day, it collected more than 850 signatures.

School Board member Colleen Beaudoin said she fully supports increasing academic opportunities for the west-side schools, which have not had all the same offerings as other campuses. She stressed, though, that no decisions have been reached, and that the board would be listening to input from all sides.

"These are discussions we have to have," Beaudoin said.

The board is scheduled to have a workshop on the west-side school proposal on Dec. 4, with a possible vote on the recommendation on Feb. 19.

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