Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Victory for Parents and the Neighborhood: Houston Elementary To Remain Open

First, here is the official news release dated May 18, 2009 from the El Paso Independent School District regarding closing three schools including Houston Elementary:

Officials from the El Paso Independent School District announced today that Houston and Zavala elementary schools in Central El Paso and Schuster Elementary School in
Northeast El Paso will remain open for at least two years. District officials indicated that there has been a significant amount of support to keep the schools open and that they want to give an opportunity to the supporters to help identify and implement solutions.

Dr. Lorenzo Garcia, superintendent of EPISD commented: "We have received a tremendous amount of community input asking us to take a closer look. It is great to have this kind of community support for these neighborhood schools and if we can focus this same energy on increasing attendance and school involvement at these schools then it can be a win-win situation; we will be diligent with taxpayer money and students will continue to excel."

The District had recommended the closing of these schools due to low attendance, aging buildings and the availability of nearby schools that are newer and have more resources. Some parents, teachers and community leaders want the District to take a closer look at adding programs to attract more students to these schools, consider transportation costs to bus children to and from nearby schools and the cost of improvements to the older schools, and consider other ways to keep children in the neighborhood from transferring to other schools.

Trustee Carlos Flores, who represents the Houston Elementary School community stated: "We must remain accountable to our tax payers by including them in critical decisions such as school closures, the Plan for Excellence, and the future of the school district. By slowing down this process, our district is committing time and effort to collaborate with taxpayers in order to achieve the best results for the students in the affected communities." Flores said that he is willing to take a leadership role in these meetings and looks forward to the dialogue.

Garcia mentioned that the information that has already been collected will be analyzed and used for a springboard for future community meetings throughout the District. A task force will be created and Garcia will ask the new Board president to assign a trustee to lead this task force.

Prior to the release, Dr. Lorenzo Garcia, wrote Representative Byrd:

Susie, last Friday and over the weekend, I reviewed and analyzed the input from our community meetings. I also reached out to individual Trustees to discuss the needs of the District and the possibility of us not consolidating schools; therefore, earlier today, we sent out a press release announcing that we're not closing the three schools for at least two years. This will allow adequate time for us to work together and create positive change. Please be aware that our Plan for Excellence is a Districtwide[sic] evaluation of programs that should be implemented. For example, we're studying Dual Language and we're implementing seven new sites next year. In addition, we'll add another 12 the following school year. It's a long-range plan for Dual Language that will eventually be Districtwide[sic]. In addition to Dual Language, we are studying several other very important programs. This is known as our Plan for Excellence.

In the near future, we will need to get together to define the partnership opportunities.We're excited that you're joining us in a partnership to help revitalize and regenerate these neighborhood schools Districtwide[sic].

Funny how Garcia was not excited in the first place to have a partnership with Representative Byrd or the parents and neighbors of Houston Elementary for that matter.

Reactions were swift and positive. President Lynn Coyle of the Newman Park Neighborhood said that "its our job to support the decision in every way that we can." She also asked:
What kind of programs do we need at Houston to have it attract kids district wide? What will it take for Houston to compete with private schools? What can the city do to support EPISD’s commitment to central neighborhood schools? What can we do as an association to bump up enrollment?
Perhaps there are other expenses the district could cut prior to closing neighborhood schools in favor of dinosaur-sized school malls. How about looking into the hiring of ex-Bowie principal and blowhard, Paul Strelzin as an overpaid cheerleader (oh sorry - consultant) by Garcia and company? See comment here and my letter to Trustee Flores here.

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