ELPS Trustee Kath Edsall Answers Questions about Red Cedar School

Monday, November 25, 2019, 9:42 am
By: 
Karessa Wheeler

Above: Trustee Kath Edsall at the Sept. 9 meeting (photo by Raymond Holt).

Editor’s note: ELi's Karessa Wheeler asked East Lansing School Board member Kath Edsall for answers to questions about the future of Red Cedar School in advance of publishing today’s story on that issue. Edsall has indicated she was not able to respond until after the story’s publication this morning. Here we reprint her full reply, sent by email.

ELi: How will Red Cedar be able to offer differentiated instruction, given that it will have single classrooms and no shared collaborative space?

School Board member Kath Edsall: As a parent in the district for 22 school calendar years and 84 child/grade years, I have seen amazing teachers work in all sorts of configurations. My first child attended Red Cedar when the only option was half day kindergarten and then grades 1-6 were single sections per grade. My second child attended Spartan Village in the first class of an all day kindergarten program, then moved to Red Cedar for 1-4. These were all single section per grade. I have had children in this district who were placed in a classroom with a teaching team that traded off teaching all 60 kids and were able to individually differentiate instruction. I have had many children in classrooms with teachers who did not take advantage of team teaching and could still differentiate instruction. Most of them did this without shared collaborative space. Red Cedar is equivalent in size to our newly built buildings so there will be plenty of space for individualized instruction and /or collaborative spaces.

ELi: Red Cedar has no library. It's library was distributed to all of the other schools when it was closed. Are we planning on building/outfitting a library for Red Cedar?

Edsall: The administration is fully aware of the library books being moved out of Red Cedar and the need to replace them with internal and external books/media supplies. The computer center was used to create the new front office. The actual library could be used as a library or any number of other spaces could be used for the library. There will be a fully stocked library at Red Cedar containing mostly new books. These funds are included in the bond money for phase two this summer.

ELi: The new Red Cedar has no PTA, and given that it will be populated primarily by a transient student population and out of district School of Choice students, how will this be remedied? PTAs do a ton to enrich the school experience.

Edsall: Red Cedar had a very active PTA from the time my first child attended in 1997 til 2014. Finding parents to join a PTA was never a problem. Just because parents are only here for a short period of time or come from another district, doesn't mean they don't want to participate in their child's school. They may not choose to be part of the PTA board, but when included in the PTA, they have made awesome volunteers.

ELi: Will there be an option for students to opt for any school other than Red Cedar?

Edsall: The permeable boundary policy applies to all resident families.

ELi: What are the logistical and legal issues surrounding housing an early childhood school and an elementary school in the same footprint? Do we have a plan for those?

Edsall: Red Cedar (as well as many of our elementary buildings) housed preschool prior to its closing in 2014. There are no new legal issues and the logistical issues have been addressed many times in the past in this district. Head Start and GSRP require licensing that we have obtained everywhere GSRP has been housed in the past, including Red Cedar. This licensing will be updated prior to the start of school next year. Having furniture, toilets, playground equipment etc. that works for different sized children in the building is an issue the district must always address whether the kids are 3-10 or 5-10.

ELi: Construction at Glencairn still isn't finished after a year and a half. Can we reasonably expect any significant remodeling to be completed at Red Cedar in only one summer? Will we be compromising and taking shortcuts in the name of "moving on" for the rest of the district?

Edsall: The district completed the bulk of the remodel project ($10 million) of Red Cedar between February and August 2018. Almost every ceiling and many walls were removed, all wiring, plumbing, technology and HVAC were upgraded, a chiller was added to cool the building, new windows and entry doors were installed, the parking lot was designed and completed, the entry and front office were moved and a safe/secure entry was created, sewer drains were separated from rain water and the building, like the other new builds, is solar ready. No short cuts were taken. The second phase at Red Cedar includes the finishes you ask about below. These finishes, cabinetry/casement, flooring, furniture and color schemes, will be selected by staff, just as they were in the other new builds. The timeline for finishing them has been well known by the contractor and our staff. The statement that "construction at Glencairn still isn't finished after a year and a half", is a bit hyperbolic. The building was open and ready for students as planned 15 months after ground breaking, a remarkable feat in the construction industry. The fact is, one subcontractor dropped the ball on the canopy and stainless steel side panels (both aesthetic features, not functionally necessary) and this issue is being addressed. At the same time, four new builds and one remodel have otherwise gone as planned and on time.

ELi: How can any decisions be made about remodeling when there have been no meetings with affected families or the staff of the new school?

Edsall: See above. Furthermore, prior to the remodel at Red Cedar, the community was consulted. Unlike the new builds where discussion focused on site and building layout, bus and parent drop off and teacher parking, the discussion at Red Cedar only needed to focus on access to the building (traffic flow, bus drop off, bike racks etc.). In every building, the internal touches have been decided upon by staff.

ELi: Given that the primary focus of the new building is early childhood, how can we be assured that the elementary students won't become an afterthought?

Edsall: I do not believe anyone has said the primary focus is early childhood. In previous years, Red Cedar has housed the county hearing impaired program, the cognitively impaired program, developmental kindergarten and Great Start Readiness. Never did the elementary program become an afterthought. The goal of consolidating our district's early childhood classrooms was two fold. One, to hopefully expand and provide preschool for a greater proportion of our under-served families and two, allow our preschoolers with disabilities the opportunity, as required by law, to be integrated with typically developing peers.

ELi: [quoting a parent] “We would have applied for a permeable boundary request any time over the last three years if it had been an option. Now, though, we will be forced into a school with MANY questions, while out of district school of choice students will be able to choose to remain at Glencairn.” Is this correct? Will there be any built in flexibility to allow students that have been at Glencairn for multiple years to remain with Glencairn? When we redrew the boundaries last fall, we did include some flexibility to allow affected Pinecrest students to remain with their peers. Can Glencairn/Red Cedar students have the same option?

Edsall: In my memory, every time elementary students have been moved to a different building, students in the oldest grade or two, have been given some flexibility to remain in their current building. This is true in the present situation, 4th and 5th graders will finish their elementary years at Glencairn. Red Cedar will house traditional elementary programing that meets the needs of all of the students in attendance, just like we do in every other elementary building in the district.

ELi: [Quoting James Barger, parent and member of the Red Cedar Programming Committee, who wrote to the school board] “There are a lot of questions about this new school. Is there going to be anything special about it? Families like ours were made to feel like pawns when the district closed Red Cedar. Now we are being made into pawns again. This feels even more egregious than the situation five years ago. I am truly glad for all of the families that get to enjoy nice new buildings. Why should families want to go to this school. So far, no one has told us anything other than the ability to walk.”

Edsall: Red Cedar was built prior to East Lansing's baby boom. It was the most structurally sound building in the district. The decision was made to remodel because the exterior did not need to be replaced. Everything inside the building will essentially be new by September 2020, the building is large enough to provide all the same spaces as the new buildings. The desire to attend Red Cedar will have to be made at the personal level. It is apparent you have issues with sending your children to Red Cedar next year just as you did in the past when you sent them to St. Thomas. You must decide where you feel your children fit best and figure out how to get them [there].

 

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