A week ago, the Lansing Board of Education passed a sweeping proposal to close some schools and re-align others into new configurations.
The “Bold Changes – Smarter Schools” plan keeps high schools open by including seventh and eighth graders and closes several elementary schools.
Interim Superintendent Yvonne Caamal Canul got the school board to support her plan. Her focus is on pre-K through third grade centers.
“There’s a lot of emphasis around the state, around the nation, a lot of research,” Caamal Canul says, “that supports the importance of early learning, learning how to read before you leave the third grade in order to move forward.”
Charles Ford was the only school board member to vote against the plan. He says there were procedural problems with last week’s vote, and he told WKAR’s Scott Pohl that he’s concerned about implementing a major plan set forth by an interim superintendent.
Ford also worries about forcing students to move to a new school after the third grade.
CHARLES FORD: First, you’re breaking up and going K-3, transition for third graders into another school as fourth graders.
I bring up two schools, one on the north end, one on the south end: north end, we’ve got Fairview, A (grade) for the last five years. Why would I want to break that school up and have the fourth graders move on to another facility when they’re doing very well there? I’d rather see the sixth graders move back to Fairview.
Now, talk about a South end school, Cavanaugh. At Cavanaugh, we don’t even have busing. So now, that means that all those students either walk to the school or their parents are able to easily drive them to school. Now you’re saying you’re only going to go pre-K to 3, now I’ve got to put those families into a busing situation, which that community is really used to, and it’s a very good school.
So, there’s some fundamental issues that I have with this plan.
SCOTT POHL: What might some of the things within the plan that you like be?
FORD: I do like the seventh through twelfth grade at Sexton and Eastern (high schools). What that does, it keeps both those schools open. Those are traditional schools. Those are schools with large alumni followings, and I hear the people loud and clear. They don’t want to see either school being closed. As a matter of fact, they even band together. They came to a meeting united and said we want our school to be open.
POHL: So where do we go to implement this plan in a logical, efficient fashion?
FORD: As I mentioned at the meeting (last week), even though I voted against the plan, I’m dedicated to making sure things work positively for Lansing. So, somehow, we’ve got to make this work. There’s going to be a focus on early learning, that’s the pre-K-3, hoping that when we transition from (grades) four to six there would be another focus there, trying to get students prepared to move into one of our bigger facilities, that is our high schools, that’s (grades) seven through twelve facilities now. So, that’s where we go from here.
We really have to focus on the academics. We have to really bring our reading scores up, our math scores. There are new state standards out there that we have to deal with, so there’s got to be an emphasis on early learning at this point.
I’m really concerned about transitioning third graders to fourth grade. We’ve got to work it out. This is the plan that the majority of the board feels works for the district. We’ve got to somehow make it work.
POHL: Doesn’t support for this plan, or at least a comfort level with this plan, fit into the search for a new superintendent now?
FORD: It’s a real drastic plan for a search for a new superintendent. If I’ve got an interim superintendent, I want you to develop some programs, maintain some things until we get this new superintendent who may have some other thoughts. We might find a top-notch candidate, they have a direction that’s a little different from ours, but we like it. I don’t think we give ourselves an option when you’re looking for a superintendent, a person who could have some new and different ways of doing things that are different from what we’re doing but we feel works for Lansing.
Where do we go from here? I hope that we can make this plan somehow feasible within the next few months. That way, when we do hire a new superintendent, we can tell that person this is where we’re at, this is where we want to go; how do you work within the scheme of things.