Losing Hudson and Mittye P. Locke elementaries? Pasco parents, students and teachers push back against proposed school closings

Hudson Elementary School students arrive for classes on Monday. Families and staff worked to go about their business even as talk swirled that the district might close the school in 2021. JEFFREY S. SOLOCHEK | Times
Hudson Elementary School students arrive for classes on Monday. Families and staff worked to go about their business even as talk swirled that the district might close the school in 2021. JEFFREY S. SOLOCHEK | Times
Published Nov. 13, 2018

Fifth-grader Iris Garmandiz spent part of her weekend crafting a letter to Pasco schools superintendent Kurt Browning.

"I do not want this school shut down," Iris said before heading into Hudson Elementary for classes on Monday.

To her, the reasoning was simple: Kids and parents love the school and its staff, who celebrate successes and support their learning.

"If you shut down Hudson, you shut a big family down," Iris wrote to Browning, who has called for closing both Hudson and Mittye P. Locke elementary schools as part of a multi-year, west-side school restructuring initiative.

As word spread of Browning's plan, students, parents and teachers at the targeted campuses responded with dismay, questions about why their campuses were targeted and plans to push back.

"I don't like it," parent Rebecca Miller said, as she walked her two children down Trouble Creek Road to Mittye P. Locke. "I would fight to keep this school open. Out of all the schools that are close, this is the best rated school."

Hudson PTA president Joanne Delli Paoli said she and her granddaughter, a third-grader, cried over the idea of their school going away.

"I'm trying to do things to keep the kids coming back," Delli Paoli said, noting she had eight pages of signatures opposed to the plan that she intended to bring to the School Board.

District officials had reasons for their proposal, which would require board approval.

Mittye P. Locke, though it receives B grades in the state test-based accountability system, operates in aging buildings that are in line for a $10 million renovation. Even with that overhaul, spokeswoman Linda Cobbe said, the school would remain in poorer condition than others nearby.

And there are several schools within a 5-mile radius, most sitting with a plethora of vacant seats. So the idea is to consolidate students into fewer campuses, and use the money slated for Locke for other projects.

Hudson, meanwhile, is filled to capacity. Over the past three years, a new team of administrators and staff members have improved both the education model and the campus culture at the long-struggling school.

But the nearby joint campus of Northwest Elementary, Hudson Middle and Hudson High are well below capacity, while also preparing for planned capital improvements. Again, consolidation to refocus scarce resources is central to the proposal, which also would increase advanced academic programs in the remaining schools.

Cobbe said she was hopeful residents would see the value in the administration's idea after hearing a fuller explanation. The board plans a workshop on Dec. 4.

So far, their views are not too welcoming.

Bow Hempus, whose son attends kindergarten at Locke, said he did not like the idea of making schools bigger. The smaller ones create a better atmosphere for children and their teachers, he said.

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

Mariya Wyatt, owner of Little Bravehearts Preschool, suggested that the short-term prospects of closing Locke were "disheartening" for the tightly knit community just off State Road 54 near U.S. 19. Longer term, though, she said if the district adds advanced academic offerings, "it will enhance the community."

Richard Thomas, whose son attends Locke, was even more open to the ideas.

"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," Thomas said.

Support for the Hudson closure was more difficult to find.

Several teachers and parents there mentioned that the schools proposed for closure serve primarily low-income students — among the most vulnerable in education. Their needs surpass classroom instruction to include basic services, as the district has often advised.

And Hudson has aimed to address those needs, while working to improve academic outcomes, all agreed.

"Instead of closing the three poorest schools in the county, they should be protecting them," said Kathy Brinkman, whose children and grandchildren have attended Hudson.

Special education teacher Rick Praitano noted that many Hudson students have trouble adjusting to change, and the school has remained one of their few safe zones.

"If they closed it and word keeps getting out, it's going to go downhill fast," Praitano said. "A lot of them in the school already feel like they aren't heard, that their voices don't matter."

Other concerns included transportation, more for parents without cars than for children who can get bus rides, and the potentially negative impact on family involvement in schooling.

"Families are close to here," fourth-grade teacher Kristin Matthewson said. "Our families walk here. Even two miles down the road is a lot."

For kids, too, third-grade teacher Jamie Snyder said.

"If they miss the bus to Northwest, they miss a day of school," Snyder said, referring to the school many Hudson children would be reassigned to.

Principal Dawn Scilex said that if the board approves the changes, the transition will require careful thought and preparation. Fifth-grader Iris said she hopes it never gets that far.

She planned to make some edits to her letter and then send it to the superintendent.

"He might listen to me," Iris said. "I hope he doesn't shut the school down."

Contact Jeffrey S. Solochek at Follow @jeffsolochek.