ELi Asks the Candidates: Do You Want to See Red Cedar Reopened as a District Elementary School?

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Thursday, October 20, 2016, 7:15 am
Ann Nichols

We asked ELi readers to submit questions for the seven candidates for the East Lansing Public Schools’ Board of Education. We selected five (some questions were duplicated) and will run candidate responses to those questions this week. The answers have not been edited.

Question 4: Do you want to see Red Cedar reopened as a district elementary school? Explain your answer. 

Hillary Henderson:  At this point, I do not believe East Lansing has the population to open and maintain an additional elementary school.  However, East Lansing could benefit tremendously from some Pre-K programming in our district, and I believe Red Cedar is an excellent location for us to expand.  I am looking forward to the findings of our Pre-K Ad Hoc committee.  I would love to see a blended Pre-K program at Red Cedar that consists of Head Start, Great Start Readiness and tuition based preschool.  There are numerous studies proving that early intervention and introduction to reading before age 4 can have a significant impact on decreasing the Achievement Gap.

Kyle Guerrant: No, I do not want to reopen Red Cedar as a district elementary building. Over the last 10 years, Michigan's K-12 student population has declined by over 195,000 students, with declines in nearly three-fourths of all traditional public school districts in the state. When the school board voted to close the building four years ago, the district enrollment data documented that East Lansing Public Schools (ELPS) did not have the student enrollment to justify having six elementary buildings. The subsequent reconfiguration of the district impacted a significant number of elementary aged families in the district. There is growing frustration among parents and community members that the current school board majority continues to revisit reopening Red Cedar for elementary programming. Since the building's closure, students have formed new friendships and embraced their current school environments, and I think adults in our community need to follow their example. I would advocate for transforming the Red Cedar facility into an early learning center focusing on birth through pre-kindergarten programming. There are successful models that blend Early On, Great Start Readiness Program (GSRP), and Head Start services to provide our youngest learners with educational opportunities they need to be ready to succeed in kindergarten. High quality early learning and development programs are a critical strategy to successfully address the district's opportunity gap (commonly referred as achievement gap) and ensure East Lansing schools are great for all students.

Robert Clark: I believe the issue of the Red Cedar school was categorized as an “us versus them” zero-sum financial discussion. It has left a big tear in our community. I believe it can be reopened as a school without penalizing the other schools in the district. Given the time it’s been closed, I do not see it opening within the immediate future, probably not until 2018. I do think that we should look into ways we can utilize the building to offset costs, and simply keep a presence in the building. I’d also like to see us phase in the grades into that school as to spread out the operations cost among fiscal  years but also to avoid disrupting students who are already attending other schools. With planned renovations in the future, and a bond effort for those renovations, brining Red Cedar online as a school would allow the schools to reduce class size and ease the renovation process throughout the district. Moreover, I believe that Red Cedar, and indeed, all our school buildings can do more to be part of the community and open themselves up to be places for more community events and gatherings.

Erin Graham: We need to make decisions that are financially and educationally sound for the district as we move forward. These decisions need to be rooted in a thorough understanding of questions such as enrollment patterns and projections, the impact of each decision on class size, potential disruption to students and school communities, students’ access to educational opportunities, and the distribution of resources.

At this time, the community bond committee, which is comprised of members from different neighborhoods with a wide-range of expertise, is meeting weekly. They are doing a thorough analysis of the data for the purpose of long-term planning. It is my intention to wait to hear the community bond committee’s recommendation in order to make a fully informed decision about the long-term future of Red Cedar.

The prior board did not know that Spartan Village was going to be open and available for families for another 3-5 years from now, overlapping with the opening of the new family housing at MSU (1855). As of August, there were 67 children in 1855. As with any new data, we must take this new information into account when making decisions.

As part of the motion to close Red Cedar, the prior board also stated that it would put educational programming there. I am very committed to having educational opportunities of some sort in Red Cedar that enrich that community; however, I do not want to see a school closed in order to reopen Red Cedar as a K-5 building.

Kath Edsall: I opposed the closure and support re-opening Red Cedar. Red Cedar housed the ELL programming for the west side of the district educating approximately 100 students each from the Red Cedar and Pinecrest catchment areas. (Donley houses the ELL programming on the district’s east side). These numbers warranted two ELL teachers who were divided along with the students into two buildings: Glencairn and Pinecrest. Never mind that neither facility could appropriately house this programming (closets and a very small classroom are being used at GC and a portable at Pinecrest), the ELL teachers have said, they aren’t able to deliver services as well. Pinecrest, has the second largest number of students living in poverty, receiving Title 1 services, the early childhood special education program, an autism classroom and the largest number of total students in an elementary building and now another group of under-served students. Our district achievement data suggests this is problematic as these demographics are all over represented in lowest performing 30% of students. This will only get worse as the state moves to requiring ELL to be delivered in a push-in model. There are twelve classrooms at Glencairn and sixteen at Pinecrest that two teachers will now be required to service. Meaning we add more ELL resources or our students receive less services. If this programming were at Red Cedar, two teachers would be servicing twelve classrooms and all six of our elementary schools could be maintained around 275 students, which benefits all schools, but particularly Pinecrest. 

Mike Conlin: There are 286 sixth graders in the crowded MacDonald Middle School.  With an average fifth grade class size of 28.5 students, ELPS can support 10 classrooms of fifth graders funneling into MacDonald.  Dividing these 10 classroom across schools with at least two classes in each grade means the district can maintain a maximum of five K-5 elementary schools.  My understanding is that principals and teachers believe alternatives to spread students across 6 elementary schools (one class per grade or split grade classes) are less than ideal for student learning. Opening a 6th elementary school with two classrooms per grade would be prohibitively expensive.  It would require expanding MacDonald, almost doubling school of choice students, and having students incur reconfiguration costs.

While many are upset about the poorly planned process by which Red Cedar was closed, including me, I believe reopening Red Cedar and closing one of the five current K-5 elementary schools is not in the students’ best interests. With that said, I think most residents of East Lansing would like to see important educational programming in Red Cedar.  The recent proposals for educational programming at Red Cedar (STEAM program, elementary school classes and a Pre-K program, or pre-K classes operated by ELPS) were not adequately researched nor financially viable.  One option worth considering is identifying another education provider, which would not compete with ELPS for students, to rent the Red Cedar building. The obvious educational providers that should be approached are Ingham ISD and MSU. (See conlin-elsb.weebly.com for details.)

Nichole Martin: I support the current configuration of elementary schools in the existing buildings they are in at this time.  I believe that Red Cedar would be better utilized as a specialized building for birth through pre-k programming.  Moving programming such as the Great Start Readiness Program from Donley and Pinecrest, would not only provide some assistance with our current issue of overcrowding, but it would also allow the district to consider holding more sections of this wonderful program.  The waitlist for GSRP was such that if provided with the space, the district could have enrolled four classrooms of GSRP students as opposed to two based on the current configuration. We could engage in tuition-based programming and Head Start services in addition to GSRP. 


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