More than 200 people at Alcy Elementary School asked Shelby County school officials Monday why their school might close and told administrators that they are willing to do whatever it takes to prevent their school from being shuttered.
Alcy Elementary is one of 13 schools slated to be closed next school year. The district is in the process of holding hearings at each of the affected schools. Superintendent Dorsey E. Hopson II has said that the list is not final, and that administrators will listen to community members’ concerns and plans for the schools.
Samantha Black, a parent of four children who attend Alcy, said she was happy with her children’s education at Alcy and did not want to send them elsewhere. “I don’t have transportation,” she said. “Alcy is a good walking distance away from where I live.”
At the meeting, officials laid out their reasons for closing Alcy, which include its low academic performance and underutilization of the building. Students are slated to attend nearby Hamilton and Magnolia elementary schools. Enrollment in the area around Alcy is projected to continue to decline. Some 300 students now attend a building designed for 600. Just 24 percent of the school’s students scored proficient in math on last year’s state standardized tests, and just 14 percent scored proficient or advanced in reading.
The district released impact reports for the schools on the proposed closure list, which include maps of which students would attend which school and projected birth rates in surrounding areas, earlier Monday.
Financial savings are not the main motivation behind the closings, district officials said.
In a series of questions submitted by attendees and read aloud by a district spokeswoman, community members raised concerns about parents’ ability to transport their students to school, about the district’s plans for serving students once they are combined in one building, and about the affect on the community of the closed school. Volunteer organizations including Harbor House wondered how they could continue to help their neighborhood school.
Some questions suggested that changes in zoning patterns in earlier years had led to the building being underenrolled, and that the district could reconfigure zoning patterns to keep Alcy open. The district has closed schools in the area near Alcy in recent years.
Parents also raised concerns about the fact that both of the schools Alcy students will be transferred to are also designated as failing schools. “What are your plans to bring up scores in these schools?” one parent asked.
Many parents raised concerns that Hamilton will be slightly overenrolled according to the district’s projections. Regional superintendent Willie Rhodes said that class sizes at the new schools would not be too large, and that combining resources would help students..
State representative Raumesh Akbari, who has helped organize plans to prevent Alcy from being closed, asked how many parents would volunteer to improve students’ literacy. Dozens raised their hands.
Board members Kevin Woods, Shante Avant, and David Reaves attended the meeting. Board member Avant said, “This community has shown us in many ways that they’re committed to this school.”
“If you’re committed to working with us on a literacy initiative, we’re committed to working with you,” Reaves said.
District officials said the school building might be turned into either a charter school or a community center, though they gave no clear plans.
Mark West, the father of a third grader at the school and an Alcy alumnus, said he would rather homeschool his son rather than send him to another school.
“It’s all based on standardized tests, but we don’t live in a standardized world,” he said about the district’s decision to close Alcy. “Everything’s based on the numbers,” he said. “But numbers do lie.” He said that, though the school was under-enrolled, there are many young children in the area who might attend Alcy in coming years.
West said KIPP, a charter school, had sent letters to students from the area near Alcy to recruit them for the fifth grade.
Dorsey E. Hopson II, the district’s superintendent, said that the academic achievement at Alcy needs to improve. “85 percent of the babies can’t read,” he said. “The reality is – we have limited resources, and you get better bang for your buck if you combine.”
But, he said, “I’m impressed by what I heard. What I’m hearing in here is a community saying we are not going to stand for that, we are going to do better.”
Reginald Porter, Jr., the chief of staff for the district, said that Alcy community members had presented the district with a proposal about how the school might be kept open. One proposal might involve housing adult education programs in the school.
There also was a separate meeting regarding the proposed closure of Vance Middle School Monday.
The district is planning meetings for the following schools in upcoming weeks.
- January 30: Riverview Elementary & Gordon Elementary (meetings at both locations)
- February 3: Graves Elementary & Northside High School (meetings at both locations)
- February 4: Westhaven Elementary
- February 6: Lanier Middle
- February 10: Riverview Middle
Corry, Klondike, Cypress, and Shannon are also slated to close, but they will be taken over by the state-run Achievement School District and have already undergone a series of community meetings.