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Plan to close Hudson Elementary School yields few complaints

The School Board is set to vote on the idea on Jan. 14. A parent meeting is set for Jan. 13.
Resource management associate Ellen Jones, left, helps Mariah Feagley, 6, to her first-grade classroom during Pasco County's first day of school at Hudson Elementary School. The school faces possible closure as its academic outcomes continue to lag. DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD   |   Times
Resource management associate Ellen Jones, left, helps Mariah Feagley, 6, to her first-grade classroom during Pasco County's first day of school at Hudson Elementary School. The school faces possible closure as its academic outcomes continue to lag. DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times
Published Jan. 9, 2020

A proposal to shut down long-struggling Hudson Elementary School and reassign its students to different schools has generated almost no pushback from parents since district officials unveiled the idea nearly a month ago.

That near silence has some School Board members wondering if they’re hearing everything they need to know as they prepare to vote Tuesday on the idea.

“I want to hear the community’s thoughts,” said board member Megan Harding, who regularly volunteers at the school, which sits in her board district.

The school district had planned to hold a parent information meeting after the board vote. After hearing board members’ sentiments, the administration rescheduled that session to take place at 5 p.m. Monday — a day before the formal action.

That way, district spokeswoman Linda Cobbe said, parents get an extra chance to share their views, even if they can’t attend the board meeting. Hudson offers families free dinner on Mondays.

Getting the input could help guide board members’ votes. So far, they’ve heard little.

In the weeks after sending a phone message to homes advising of the plan, the district administration and board members received just one e-mail on the topic. It was from a school employee who raised several concerns and urged caution.

Related: Pasco plans $250 million schools improvement project

Chairwoman Colleen Beaudoin said the overall lack of feedback prompted her to head to the campus so she could hear more from the staff, who already had met with top district officials about employment options if the school eventually closes.

“I want to see what their concerns are,” Beaudoin said.

Both board members signaled their general support for offering improved academic and social services to children attending Hudson, which has fared poorly on state and federal accountability measures over several years. The school’s latest student performance data is “not good,” deputy superintendent Ray Gadd noted. The school recently has lost teachers and seen its enrollment shrink, according to the district.

Most Hudson students would head to an overhauled K-12 campus of Northwest Elementary, Hudson Middle and Hudson High, which would base its instruction on the Cambridge Programme, while also adding community offerings such as medical offices to help parents and area residents. Some students would be reassigned into Gulf Highlands Elementary.

“We’ve got to do something,” said Beaudoin, who noted the administration answered many of the questions and filled many of the gaps from a similar plan that the board rejected a year ago.

But she and others held back in saying they will vote to close the school without some added comfort that the initiative will work in students’ best interest and that they have community buy in. Just dropping in a new program without adequate support and training is not the answer, Harding suggested.

“I don’t want to see the same results, just in a different place,” said Harding, who attended Hudson as a child and later taught at Northwest.

Getting feedback from the Hudson area hasn’t always been easy for the district.

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A year ago, parents and residents of the areas served by Lacoochee and Mittye P. Locke elementary schools came out in numbers to urge the board not to close those campuses and relocate the children. Teachers from Hudson Elementary made pleas for their school, also considered for closure, but the parent turnout was limited to a tiny few.

Board members took note, even as they halted the initiatives for all three schools.

“In Lacoochee, that was an actual community. People wanted to do whatever they could,” recalled board member Alison Crumbley, who grew up in west Pasco. “They don’t have that in Hudson.”

Still, board members said they didn’t want to take anything for granted.

The relative quiet to this point might indicate support for the district’s plan, indifference, resignation to the expected outcome or just a lack of time to reach out. Monday’s meeting could help.

People also will be able to let the board know what they think just before the board votes at what will be its only meeting in January.

If the board approves, "the whole process would start unfolding as we laid out,” Gadd said.

He said he hoped to see the district break out of the typical education model as it moves to a new approach for the Hudson schools.

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