CCS still debating future of middle schools

Schools in the Linden area have become a topic of several debates throughout Columbus, one subject being talk of the elimination of middle schools. As it has been explained on previous occasions by board members, this scenario will be tested in schools in the Linden Area. If the program proves successful, it may eventually spread to the rest of the district.

The board heard a report on the feasibility of the Linden Area Education Plan from Pete Maneff, Executive Director of Curriculum Leadership and Development and Twana Young, Director of the Elementary Curriculum, Division I.

Maneff said one of the implementations based on the Linden Area Task Force report would be aligning the Linden area schools with STEM school philosophy, an acronym for science, technology, English and math.

"STEM encompasses how to deliver education to students through project-based learning, community service, laboratories that answers questions from real-world perspectives, creative thinking through the arts, developing critical thinking skills and forming partnerships with colleges, universities, the community and businesses," said Maneff.

The way Maneff said STEM will succeed is through better communications with the school, parents and the community; additional staff for each of the four schools and expanding elementary schools to include sixth graders. In addition the district would offer enrichment programs for students during the summer and professional development for staff.

"Students attending Linden STEM campus will be challenged to use their knowledge of math, science, technology and the arts to become those that develop the next break-though innovation. It’s an exciting time for Linden and an exciting time for parents and students at Linden STEM campus," said Maneff.

Reallocating existing grant funds, according to Maneff, will support most of the costs for this program but there will be a need for an additional $175,000 for the Linden STEM campus.

"Our role is changing but it’s crucial to  provide students with the education they need to meet the future," said Maneff.

Charter schools moving in

Also at the meeting, another board measure passed a resolution to lease the Linden Park Elementary building to KIPP: Central Ohio and lease the Brentnell Elementary School building to The Charles School at Ohio Dominican.

Laura Maxwell, a parent of a CCS first grader, tried to convince the board to vote against that measure.

"Students, parents and the community have felt the effects of charter schools in CCS; we have declining enrollment, larger class sizes, fewer teachers and less state funding. Why would we, Columbus City Schools, make charter schools more accessible to our students?" said Maxwell.

Maxwell went on to say that she would rather see those empty buildings torn down and the land sold than allow charter schools to operate.

"The Linden Park area, which is up for consideration, has more than a 1,000 Columbus students attending charter schools, making it the most heavily recruited area in Columbus. Why would we allow them to steal our brightest students?"

Dr. Gene Harris, Superintendent of Columbus City Schools, said the utility costs and upkeep for those two buildings are about $60,000, so by leasing these buildings out, the district is able to put that money back into the general fund.

"What we are doing in this lease arrangement is we will generate income for the building and we don’t pay, obviously, for the capital improvements that are needed for those leases," said Harris.

Board member Betty Drummond said charter schools will set up shop regardless of whether or not Columbus schools lease them a building, so the district needs to take a proactive approach instead.

"What we need to do is step up to the plate, as we are in the Linden community, so they don’t want to leave and their parents don’t want to move them out of our schools. We can’t fight them coming," said Drummond.

Board Vice President Carol Perkins said that leasing to charter schools is also a necessary thing to show the district is being fiscally prudent.

"It becomes very important as we’re moving forward, in particular for a levy, that we have to be able to substantiate what we’re doing with our facilities," said Perkins.

Maxwell remained unconvinced that board has no other choice.

"I see that their comments are financially motivated, not necessarily motivated for students. I think that there are other ways that they could perhaps garner financial gain from those locations, not necessarily leasing them to the KIPP school, which they say is wildly successful. I don’t see that as a win as Dr. Harris says," said Maxwell.

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