Silence on Riverview school realignment has parents nervous

Photo by Angela Nims from video Jason Tackett and other parents turned out in high numbers at a Dec. 20 Riverview Community Schools Board of Education meeting to share their concerns about a realignment proposal.

Photo by Angela Nims from video
Jason Tackett and other parents turned out in high numbers at a Dec. 20 Riverview Community Schools Board of Education meeting to share their concerns about a realignment proposal.

Next board meeting Jan. 10

By ANGELA NIMS
Special to the Sunday Times
RIVERVIEW — Months ago, when responding to finance questions, Riverview Community  Schools Supt. Pickell said questions are welcome, the board is totally transparent and that it strives to build a positive relationship with the community.

Parents of students in Riverview elementary schools hope that will prove to be true on the topic of elementary school realignment, as well, when the board meets Jan. 10. Parents and others concerned with realignment are expected to attend the meeting, scheduled for 7 p.m. at Riverview City Hall, 14100 Civic Park Drive.

During the March 22 regular school board meeting, a concept of aligning elementary grade levels was presented, based on grades rather than location. One school would be kindergarten and first grade, another second and third, with fourth and fifth grades in the remaining school.

While such a change may have far reaching benefits, it is largely the drawbacks that are at the forefront of parents’ minds. As resident David Girst recently opined to the board, under such a system, “I would have three kids in three different schools. Five schools over the whole time frame. I have a busing system I can utilize but some don’t.”

The school board determined in March further investigation was necessary. A committee was formed to explore different concepts, and the ultimate benefit or detriment such a change could have upon students. By May, that group had visited with other districts who previously implemented the grade alignment, with results they found encouraging. The board advised, however, still more investigation was needed.

As seasons have changed, public concern has risen, with many parents fearing they are being left in the dark. Elizabeth Ashley, who has two children in a Riverview elementary, believes parents are showing up to the meetings and asking questions, but they simply aren’t being answered.

“All these months of investigation, what have they found out?” Ashley said. “Usually, when people ask questions at a board meeting — the board doesn’t have to answer — but they usually do at the next meeting. On this, though, it’s just ‘more investigation is needed.’”

Fear of the unknown is quickly fanning flames. At the Dec. 20 board meeting, former board member Matthew Zick said he can commiserate with the board’s position, but held firm the public need for more information.

“I know it’s hard dealing with these issues, grappling with them, but (the board) are the conduit to the community,” Zick said. “The community doesn’t feel they’ve been kept informed enough. When Facebook is my primary source of information on what’s a primary issue, that’s a problem.”

According to the minutes report of the March 22 board meeting, when the concept was unveiled, ‘the determination was that the initial setup would be research different concepts and form a committee of staff, administration and community members to explore how beneficial this could be for our students’.

That sentiment was slightly adjusted, but largely echoed at the May meeting, when then-Trustee Shawn Filkins told the audience that community members would be involved on the committee, once touring some realigned school districts had been completed. Parent Pilar Salaz-Martin threw her hat into the ring, offering to represent the community on the committee, and was directed to leave her information with a board member — that she was welcome on the committee.

To date, Salaz-Martin said she has not been contacted to participate.

In lieu of an official presentation on the matter, residents find themselves making due with snippets of possible facts from unnamed faculty members or those working with them. These unofficial sources point in a singular direction: that the Riverview elementary realignment is a done deal.

Memorial Elementary School fourth-grade teacher Heather Martinez — who is part of the realignment investigation group — was quick to rebuke that belief.

“We, as a teacher’s committee, have made a positive recommendation for building realignment within our elementary school system,” Martinez said at the Dec. 20 meeting. “We have various reasons why we made that positive recommendation.

“I also want to talk about how we’re moving forward with it. This is not a done deal by any means whatsoever. We are going to be presenting our side of the story — academically, behaviorally, socially — and the things that we’ve learned from neighboring districts we’ve visited, to our entire teaching staff at the elementary level, in January.”

Once the presentation was made, teachers could address their concerns.

Of the next step, Martinez said the committee would be busy, “…answering questions (the teachers) have, things we may not have thought of as an entire community, making sure we have all of our ducks in a row. From there, we have discussed that we would like to involve the community as much as possible. In my conversations with Pickell we have discussed having open forums at each of the elementary schools.”

The reassurance did little to allay fears. Also at the December meeting, and on social media, parents detail a myriad concerns. Some feel that a K-5 school offers children exposure to slightly more mature students which can demonstrate the child’s own peer group isn’t everything. Both home value and ease of access are also concerns, as many parents moved to Riverview, or chose a home location within it, based on proximity to a particular school.

For Ashley, the issue begins at the camaraderie between her children and expands from there.

“I have two kids, one is 4 years old, and the other almost 6,” Ashley said. “But with this program, my kids won’t be in the same school together again until my oldest is in eighth grade.

“And is it good to have children switching schools so frequently? One of my children is in a 504 Plan. The teachers, the school, know him, and already have a plan. But realignment means having to go through it all again and again, with possibly less success.”

As the parental outcry gains momentum on social media, some wonder if the sense of community might become fractured. Jason Tackett, in speaking to the board Dec. 20, said, “The sense of community — the parents of elementary school children are most involved, and I think that would be lost. That’s a critical aspect of a community being able to dedicate all its resources to one school.”

Day-to-day realities of a realignment have some residents anxious. The average age difference in the United States between siblings is 30 months. Many Riverview parents fit that profile. Walking one student to school, and driving another, due to cramped vehicle exiting conditions at the schools are leaving some to wonder if the start times would have to be staggered.

High school teacher Michon Lince disagreed with such concerns at the Dec. 20 meeting, saying, simply, “Convenience should never be put ahead of education.”

The comment brought more parents to the microphone. Elementary parent JenBrett Logan summed up the frustration.

”Next year, I’ll have K, second and fourth graders,” Logan said. “I don’t think it’s a convenience issue, but I think, as a lot of people have stated, we don’t know what’s going on. Academically, if this is great for my kid, then tell me why. I don’t know why and I’ve researched. I’ve looked at things. Yet, I’ve yet to see what is waiting for us.”

No school board members could be reached for comment by publication time.

To view a petition to stop the realignment, go to www.thepetitionsite.com/496/761/233/stop-riverview-school-realignment.

(Contact Angela Nims at angelanims007@gmail.com.)