April 12, 2007

Education, Cheney Public Schools, Eastern Washington University, Reid Elementary School, School Closure

By Sara Leaming, The Spokesman-Review, Spokane, Wash.

Apr. 12--It took two weeks for about 60 parents, faculty members and students from Eastern Washington University to organize a march through campus Wednesday afternoon in an effort to save Reid Elementary School from closure.

Now those school advocates may have two years to convince EWU to keep the small school open.

The Cheney School Board decided Wednesday night to keep the school open for at least a year, on the condition that it is safe enough for students to attend. The district will begin work with the university to see if the school can stay open beyond that, but it will take major funding, school officials said.

The school, attached to EWU's education school and owned by the university, has been jointly operated with Cheney Public Schools since 1986 and has about 130 students in grades kindergarten through five.

While the university pays for operation costs, such as maintenance and custodial staff, the school district provides teaching staff and equipment like textbooks and computers.

It also serves as a lab for the university, where students -- not just those studying to be teachers but from other parts of campus -- can come to observe.

But in recent weeks, the school district learned that much-needed renovations for the aging building are unlikely to be funded through the university's capital projects request to the state Legislature.

A letter from university President Rodolfo Arevalo, stated "under the current system of capital project funding ... it is unlikely the money (for Reid) will ever become available or that EWU can support those renovations as one of the two capital items we are allotted."

State universities are required to prioritize their capital requests in a queue system, and the three regional universities -- Eastern, Western and Central Washington -- are each awarded funding for one major and one minor project each biennium.

A request for $3.5 million to replace the heating and ventilation system at Reid was on the list, but it wasn't a top priority, university officials said.

Of greater priority is the design phase for the renovation of Patterson Hall, the university's main classroom building.

"We have no power to tell the school district to close the school or not," said David Rey, special assistant to the president. Rey said the university is willing to continue with the current arrangement with the school district, understanding that improvements to the building are not likely to be made.

The district said the school has never been modernized, the building's infrastructure, particularly the air systems, are wearing out and eventually the buildings won't be suitable for students.

"Where we are now is at a place where we know the building isn't going to be fixed," said Cheney Superintendent Michael Dunn.

Dunn said he made the recommendation to delay the school's closure so the district has "more time to make the most graceful transition for our staff and parents."

Unlike Spokane Public Schools, Cheney's population has been growing. Spokane, which has seen dwindling numbers, proposed closing Pratt Elementary School. With 230 students, it's the smallest of Spokane's 35 elementary schools.

The issue "is not about declining enrollment; it's about an aging facility that frankly needs to be fixed," said Dunn.

Parents, many of whom are faculty at the college, said they were frustrated that they were not included in conversations about the school closure.

"The superintendent is telling us the school is not safe; there seems to be no data that supports that," said Julie Poolman-Jackson. Her husband, Nick Jackson, is the interim associate dean of the College of Education and Human Development and helped organized Wednesday's rally.

Dunn said the district did perform some tests on the building and determined it was safe for the time being.

Poolman-Jackson said parents also believed that the school was a priority among the university's list of capital projects. Reid renovations were initially listed on Gov. Chris Gregoire's budget but were not on the university's list of top priorities, Rey said.

"We moved into the neighborhood wanting our child to go to Reid," Poolman-Jackson said.

Built in 1959 as a lab for the College of Education, the concept is probably the only one left in the state. Attached to the education school by a breezeway, students can come and go, learning and observing from classroom teachers at work. There are observation towers over classrooms where students can watch.

"It was one of the premier lab schools and was a leader in the field, shaping how public schools worked," Nick Jackson said.

But the school district said the lab school is not utilized as often as it used to be. High-stakes testing and grade-level expectations set forth by the state have changed the way teachers do their job.

"The compelling vision for this partnership school has waned over the past 10 years," Dunn said.


Copyright (c) 2007, The Spokesman-Review, Spokane, Wash.

Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Business News.

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