Changes to school spark debate

Using local school as a model creates doubts and excitement.
Thursday, April 15, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 3:22 a.m. CDT, Friday, July 11, 2008

The atmosphere at West Boulevard Elementary School has changed since an announcement that the school will be revamped into a model school to close achievement gaps between various ethnic and economic groups.

“There is a lot of excitement about the potential of all these ideas,” Pam Conway acting principal, said. “Now the school can pull out all the stops to help these students reach the achievement levels we know they can.”

Conway has been acting principal of West Boulevard in place of Rosie Tippin, who resigned this year because of medical reasons. Phyllis Chase, superintendent of Columbia Public Schools, announced her decision Monday night.

Administrators will meet with West Boulevard parents at 8 a.m. today at the school to answer questions and explain their vision for the model.

Uncertainty amidst excitement

On Tuesday afternoon, Lucille Braden came to pick up a student from the school and said she was glad West Boulevard was chosen.

“This is something that we need,” she said. “I’m glad there will be better classrooms for the kids.”

Students at the school were enthusiastic when the changes were mentioned.

“This new school will be great because we’ll get special attention and be able to learn more,” said fourth-grader Ronisha Hayes. Students will continue to be enrolled based on attendance areas.

Despite the excitement, for some people, the announcement has prompted uncertainty. A lot of questions exist about teacher placement, parent involvement and the extent of the changes.

“Some faculty are a little tenuous about the news, since they won’t know their exact location next year,” Conway said. “Some parents also feel like it’s portrayed the school in a bad light. That hasn’t been the intention of anyone, but some just feel the rich history of the school has been shadowed.”

Assistant Superintendent Cheryl Cozette said no teachers would lose their job because of personnel changes in the school. Teachers currently working at the school can apply to work at the model school or look to transfer to another school in the district.

Changes in the school will concentrate on staff, schedules and involvement. The principal, who is scheduled to be hired next week, will choose a staff based on its commitment. The principal opening is one reason West Boulevard was chosen as the model.

“With Rosie Tippin leaving, the school was already going through a change in administration,” Conway said.

Curriculum, schedule to be revamped

Schedule changes involve more instruction time, including extended school time and more planning time for teachers. The curriculum will focus on language arts and will integrate subjects that are usually separate, such as art, music and science.

Braden wasn’t sure if the longer days and hours are a good idea.

“I don’t think kids should be in school longer, but at least it keeps them off the streets,” she said.

Kathy Walker went to West Boulevard as a child and now has a daughter in kindergarten at the school. She doesn’t want the school day to have additional hours.

“I don’t really agree with longer hours,” she said. “Eight hours is long enough for kids to go to school. I mean, that’s long enough for adults to work, so why should kids be subjected to more?”

Students weren’t thrilled with the idea of more school, but could see how it could be useful.

“I don’t want more school time, but I guess it will help us learn,” said fourth-grader LaShawna Boone.

Contract to encourage involvement at home

Involvement, especially parental involvement, is a key component to the new school.

Chase talked about a contract parents will sign to ensure involvement, with the help of principal and teacher efforts to keep parents informed.

“There are many parents at this school that are already really involved in their child’s education,” Conway said. “The changes will help those who aren’t able to come to the school as much, because of work or other things, be involved from home. It is just going to expand opportunities for parent involvement.”

Walker is unsure about how seriously the district will commit to the plans, but said if it does happen, it will be good for the school.

“If they’re willing to invest the time and money, I’ll be happy to see school improvements,” she said. “It depends on what the changes are, but I guess it will be good if it is improving the learning system.”

Walker said she would continue to enroll her children at West Boulevard next year.

Chase said Monday that students will be allowed to transfer out of the school, but she doesn’t believe parents will want to do that after being informed about the restructured school. The students would go through the regular transfer procedure the district already has in place.

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