Elementary Parents Plead with School Board for Help with Overcrowding and Behavior Issues

Wednesday, September 27, 2017, 8:36 am
Karessa Wheeler

Parents from Glencairn and Pinecrest elementary schools appealed to the East Lansing Board of Education Monday night for more support and additional aides for their children’s classrooms.

Christe Alwin, mother of two Pinecrest children, said there are too many children in Pinecrest and not enough staff. Recent MSTEP results highlight large discrepancies between the scores of Pinecrest students and other schools, Alwin said. Pinecrest has 420 students, the largest of East Lansing’s five elementaries, and recently had a reduction of staff with an aide going from fulltime aide to parttime. The large population makes behavior issues at the school even worse.

“We are asking to reduce the size of Pinecrest by moving programming to Red Cedar immediately, increasing our interventionist to full time immediately and adding a restorative justice person immediately,” Alwin said. “Our whole school is failing and we need attention.”

Trustee Nichole Martin said she was aware of the problems at Pinecrest and that they are not new.

“It is definitely something to continue to look at, to find creative solutions for a lot of those kids,” she said.

Also speaking to the Board were Kristin Bellar and Victoria Solomon, parents of Glencairn Elementary first graders. Last year, Glencairn had a kindergarten class of 28 with multiple English language learners and students with behavior issues. The School Board agreed to provide them with an additional paraprofessional for the year to assist the kindergarten teacher.

Now, however, those students are in first grade, with the same issues of behavior and language barriers, and the additional support person has been eliminated. Bellar and Solomon asked the Board to reinstate a fulltime support person for the first grade classes.

“The principal knows the concerns and it is more than just class size. There are behavioral things that need more attention,” Solomon said. “A number of us are able to go in and help, and I am so impressed with the teachers, but this is a very tough group to manage. We would appreciate you hiring some support for the first grade teachers at Glencairn.”

Also speaking Monday were two District teachers who are requesting that the Board consider allowing their children, who are School of Choice enrollees, to ride a school bus from MacDonald Middle School to Glencairn Elementary to join their younger siblings. Suzanne Rojas, a 17 year employee with the District and a science teacher at the high school, said she would be able to assist more of her students after school if she didn’t have to pick up her child from the middle school. If he could instead ride on a bus already travelling to Glencairn, it would save her time and allow her to work more with students.

Rojas was supported by Glencairn fourth grade teacher Marc Finger whose daughter also attends MacDonald. Because Glencairn gets out later than MacDonald, Finger currently relies on Rojas to transport his daughter to Glencairn.

“This would cost the District nothing. I am not asking them to make a special stop for my child,” Rojas said. “This is about valuing your employees. This would show appreciation in a meaningful way.”

Rojas said there are only 25 students who are Schools of Choice and the children of District employees who attend middle and high school and would be able to make this request. Three of them are already at the schools where their parent works, so they would not need this service.

“Why wouldn’t you help your employees if you could? If the buses are too packed already, you need to find a solution to adequately bus all students,” Rojas said.

Martin suggested that the Board’s Policy Committee look into allowing employees’ children to ride buses to other schools within the District. Trustees Yasmina Bouraoui and Karen Hoene supporting looking into the issue, especially considering Dean Transportation, which operates the buses, is due to give the Board updated rider data within the next week.

On the issue of busing, Trustee Kate Powers said she has received a number of calls and messages about busing problems to and from the middle school, including complaints that students had to sit three to seat with musical instruments. She has also heard concerns about the congestion of cars at the middle school and dangers to students walking into the school because parents don’t want to put their children on congested buses.

“I don’t want to let this go. I hope there are ways we can reach back out to the people who are reaching out to us and asking for help,” Powers said. “I wonder if we could move forward and take a look at the actual number of students on each bus at the end of each day.”

Finally, parent Liam Brockey asked the Board to consider moving the start time of the high school to no earlier than 8:30 a.m. Brockey, whose children are in 9th and 10th grade, has been making this request since his children were in 7th and 8th grade. He said his daughter suffers from migraines which can be made worse by waking up at different times on different days. If she has to wake up at 6:45 a.m. on the weekdays, she must also awake that early on the weekend or get a migraine, he said.

“We are making great leaps, building new buildings. We have good research and data. This is incredibly important to our students,” Brockey said, citing scientific research that there are additional economic benefits of delayed start times, as well as such effects as reducing car crashes.

Brockey also asked the Board to consider a policy of no homework on the weekends for students.

“It would be good for them to be nurtured by their families; to develop as world citizens doing things that are beyond strictly doing homework and the suggestion of homework-free weekends would be, at least as a policy here at East Lansing High School, very, very beneficial to our students,” he said.

Martin said the Board’s Mental Health Policy Committee discussed a “homework calendar” that doesn’t mean no homework but allows teachers to avoid giving homework on specific holidays or times of the year. Many teachers feel like they must give homework to keep students meeting standards, but Martin would like the Board to support the teachers ability to not give as much homework.

In other action, the Trustees approved an audit of the financial statements of the District. Accountant Dave Neilson reviewed the 2016-17 financial statements and told the Board members earlier that “this is one of the cleanest Districts you audit in the whole state,” said Trustee Erin Graham.

The Board also unanimously passed a three year religious and cultural calendar for the District.