Lawrence Township’s two elementary magnet schools will be taking a hit next year with Monday’s School Board vote to decrease enrollment for 2009-10. Students at Forest Glen and Indian Creek also will lose about 40 minutes of instructional time due to a new shuttling system.
On the surface, the votes seem inconsistent with the district’s push for greater choice and expanded magnet programs at the elementary level. However, board members say it’s just a temporary hiccup in a master plan to increase magnet offerings district wide in 2010-11.
Eighteen months ago, the district began studying how best to balance enrollments at its 11 elementary schools. That initiative, known as EXCEL, evolved into a quest for educational equity in a very diverse school district.
The new plan calls for setting up magnet-type programs at all 11 elementary schools and giving parents a choice to send their child to any school on their side (east or west) of the district. Only Forest Glen would remain a stand-alone magnet program, offering a dual immersion experience, where both native English and native Spanish speakers would be immersed in foreign language.
The current Global Studies program at Forest Glen likely will be moved to Amy Beverland, which would adopt an International Studies focus for 2010-11.
With all the logistics to work out, the district needed an extra year to shuffle staff, provide additional training and work out the nightmare of transportation. Yet, school administrators and board members felt the problem of overcrowding at some schools — and declining population at others, like Amy Beverland — needed to be dealt with for next school year. Hence, the vote to decrease the number of incoming first graders at Forest Glen and Indian Creek by one classroom in 2009-10.
Board members received dozens of emails from parents and teachers, warning them not to make a hasty cut this year without first having a comprehensive, workable plan in place for the entire elementary transformation in 2010-11. Several patrons also spoke at Monday night’s meeting.
Not only did the board choose to limit options for next year’s first graders, it also voted to decrease the school day at its marquee magnet programs by 30-40 minutes in favor of saving on transportation costs next year. Instead of instructional time, the kids will be spending more time on the bus, riding to and from school. The shuttle system also will go into effect for students in the STRETCH gifted and talented programs. These students will ride their neighborhood bus to their “home” school, then be transported to the magnet or STRETCH school site.
Add it up, and these students may be losing close to three weeks of instructional time over the course of the school year. Forest Glen Kindergarten Teacher Becca McBride told the board, if anything, she could use more time at school, not less. School Board Vice President Henry Fernandez, himself a Forest Glen parent, was the only board member to vote against this proposal. The driving factor was that the move is projected to save the school system about $800,000 in transportation costs.
Board Member Adam Goldstein sized up the temporary cuts at the magnet schools as an investment into a long-range plan to increase school choice for all Lawrence Township families. While many parents and staff members are supportive of the future plan for elementary programs, their excitement is tempered with uncertainty, as the administration has yet to produce a workable plan for 2010-11 and teachers have not been told what the shake up will mean for their jobs.
A diverse student population calls for creative solutions, and the Lawrence Township administration has done a good job of involving stakeholders in shaping their future. However, the logistics of implementation are proving to be challenging.