Home > Uncategorized > Food for Thought on the School Closing Issue: A Message from Allen Neighborhood Center

Dear Friends and Neighbors,

I would like to draw your attention to the fact that the Lansing School Board is discussing the closing of either Eastern or Sexton High School, a decision which the Board of Directors of Allen Neighborhood Center  believes would be destructive and counter-productive to the district, and indeed, to the City.

Eastern and Sexton each serve as a stabilizing presence on Lansing’s Eastside and Westside, respectively, helping to create sustainable, vibrant, and stable communities.  In addition to serving their school communities, these high schools anchor and embody the spirit of two quadrants of the City.

While we believe that closing either high school is a mistake, we are particularly concerned about Eastern High School.  Below are a list of reasons, developed by the Eastern Alumni Group as well as school and community members, for retaining Eastern High School.  A second list includes important considerations offered by former LSD Board Member Jack Davis in a memorandum to the Board.

This is a critical issue, and we encourage you to take the time to read through these offerings, and then weigh in with members of the school board.  Board members names and emails are not included on the District’s website, but we have been told that emails consist of first name, dot, last name, @lansingschools.net.  For instance, board president Myra Ford is myra.ford@lansingschools.net.

You might also consider attending a special meeting this Tuesday at 7 pm in the Administration Building on W. Kalamazoo to hear the Administration Restructuring Recommendations Report (i.e., what Dr. Wallace’s administrative team thinks should be done.).  Or, plan to attend Thursday’s regularly scheduled meeting, which starts at 6 p.m.  Decisions may be imminent, so please take the time now to dig into this issue and share your ideas and opinions with the decision-makers.

Thank you for your consideration.

Joan Nelson

On Behalf of the Board of Directors of Allen Neighborhood Center

Talking Points For Retaining Eastern’s Tradition Of Excellence

1.      Eastern is one of only two (2) Michigan high schools certified for the preK-12th Grade Schools Pathways Program. That has enabled Eastern to offer the prestigious International Baccalaureate (IB) Program to high-achieving juniors and seniors. It provides challenging, college level courses not available in the regular high school curriculum. The popularity of Eastern’s IB program has grown steadily to the point where more than 700 students currently are enrolled in at least one of these advanced courses.

2.      If Eastern were to be closed, IB officials have indicated it would be a complicated, lengthy, and possibly costly process to certify Everett or Sexton for this project which would take more than a few months to complete. In addition, taking Eastern off-line would jeopardize continuation of the fledgling IB programs at 2 of Eastern’s feeder schools (Post Oak Elementary School and Pattengill Middle School). In addition, the IB project is the very type of accelerated education program which can attract and retain students in the district. Losing it could further erode the system’s enrollment and the state aid allotment which follows each student.

3.      Based on current enrollment statistics, Eastern could be considered the “school of choice” for 9th-12th graders in Lansing. Of the more than 1,200 now enrolled at Eastern, 53 live in the Everett attendance area, 156 are from the Sexton district, and 22 are from surrounding school systems. When one looks at the designated attendance areas for the 3 high schools, only 61% of potential Sexton students are enrolled in their assigned building. At Eastern the figure is 81%, while Everett has retained 83% of their high school residents.

4.      Despite screaming news headlines of “failing” schools and declining test scores, Eastern continues to have its share of high-achieving students who are involved in honors, Advanced Placement, and IB classes. Members of the Class of 2011 qualified for more than $2.7 million in college scholarships.

5.      In the past year, disciplinary suspensions at Eastern have been reduced by 45%, while student scores on state reading and math tests have improved and now exceed those of their counterparts at Everett and Sexton although greater gains need to be achieved.

6.      While Eastern is 14 years older than Sexton, it is nonetheless a solid, well-maintained facility representing the iconic architecture of the 1920s. We invite Board of Education members to make unannounced tours of the 3 high schools to see firsthand the charm and attractiveness of the historic east side building as compared to the other 2 high schools.

7.      If Eastern is closed, there is a good chance many parents/students would choose to transfer to one of the outlying districts (Bath, DeWitt, East Lansing, Haslett, Holt, Okemos, and Waverly), thus robbing Lansing of needed students and per pupil state aid. The governor’s mandatory schools of choice bill now before state lawmakers could, if passed, make it even easier for Eastern students to transfer to other school systems. (One example of the negative impact which the state’s schools of choice program has had on Lansing can be seen in the fact that 20% of East Lansing’s current enrollment of almost 3,500 students live in the Lansing School District.

8.      Eastern has a large and active Alumni Association with an endowed treasury of one million dollars! In this era of declining state aid and shrinking budgets, the alumni group offers needed resources to the school such as teacher mini-grants for innovative programs and field trips, student scholarships, and annual awards for outstanding teachers and students.

9.      Eastern currently has about $91,000 in reserve for designated student scholarships and memorial awards donated by families and individuals who maintain a strong loyalty to the school.

10. Historically, parents and other voters in the Eastern attendance area have supported the Board’s requests for operating millages and bond issues, often providing the margin of victory in close votes.

11. While parental involvement with the schools usually declines as students reach the secondary grade levels, Eastern’s PTSA plays an active and vital role in the building and east side community.

12.  One of Eastern’s greatest strengths is the ethnic and cultural diversity of its student body. Last year, 26 different languages were spoken by students and their families. This type of diversity has enriched and improved the education of all students.

Additional Points Raised by former LSD Board Member, Jack Davis

1.         In reviewing the most current data, it appears that seven elementary schools are below 80% capacity. Further, Rich and Otto are below 70% capacity.  Everett is below 80% capacity and Sexton is below 60% capacity.  It seems obvious that a school should first be looked at in connection with any restructuring or closure because they do not have the enthusiastic parent support or a sufficient population base.  Logically, as far as elementary schools are concerned, where there are elementary schools which have lower than 80% capacity and which are relatively close to an elementary school with sufficient capacity, or a couple of elementary schools which have sufficient capacity to take the students from the closed elementary school, it would be the most logical to look at these schools in terms of restructuring.  It is clear that this District has previously closed elementary schools and has still kept a good reputation with regard to its elementary school offerings because the change in the elementary school attendance area is not as offensive today as it once was because of parents becoming used to the current busing patterns.  We can often transfer a student from a closed elementary school to another elementary school which is doing as well or better in the academic testing.

2.         Another factor which has customarily been used by the District is whether or not a school is at or below District and/or state level with regard to testing.  And another factor is whether or not the school is supported by neighborhood students or is in fact receiving students largely through busing patterns.  But at any rate there can be a restructuring where the schools with significant capacity can be combined and the emphasis should be on keeping open the schools which have the highest proficiency rate as long as there are no other significant factors such as issues of building deterioration.

3.         We should reconsider the actual savings in closing or restructuring an elementary school.  Customarily, we think in terms of custodians, various assistants and school secretaries as well as utility costs, etc., but there should also be saving in terms of the cost of the principal and there should also be a savings with efficiencies in combining schools whereby two to three teachers are eliminated in the combination.  If this is the case, then the savings with regard to closing elementary schools are more in the neighborhood of $400,000 – $500,000, which is what was used as the figure during Dr. Banks’ administration, rather than the $200,000 per elementary school figure that we are using with the current administration.  This would mean that in closing four elementary schools, we would be close to the $2,000,000 figure that is being discussed.

4.         While we do have good support in our elementary schools, the fact remains that we are very inefficient with our elementary schools, and we must work towards consolidations and restructuring where we use our bigger buildings.  This has been the recommendation of the Hollister report and it was the further recommendation of the Facilities Committee with regard to this restructuring initiative.  Obviously, Rich should be more fully utilized, presumably with a restructuring involving another elementary school program, and Otto must be more fully utilized, again with the utilization, presumably, of an elementary restructuring program.  The Facilities Committee discussed this fully in their report.  In considering these consolidations alone, there should be an ability to come up with the $2,000,000 figure.

5.         It should be noted that the $2 million figure referenced in the contract was arrived at when the District thought it had a less than $200,000 surplus.  We’ve heard the unions complain about how the figures were incorrect when they agreed to the contract.  Similarly, the Board of Education with regard to this figure was misinformed as to the surplus.  As the parties go into renewed negotiations, they will each be arguing that there must be reconsideration of the contract provision in light of the $8,000,000 surplus currently on the books.  The union will certainly do this with regard to the wage and benefit concessions and the school District should do the same with regard to all the management issues they gave up during the last contract including the $2 million concept.

6.         With regard to elementary schools, please note that the administration has provided a list with regard to elementary schools within 1½ miles of each other and their relative capacity.  One of the school configurations is Atwood, Reo, North, and Cavanaugh.  We also have Averill in a configuration with Lewton and Wainwright.  Elmhurst was put in a configuration with Lewton, but it is also true that Elmhurst is just a few blocks away from Rich, which has substantial capacity.  It should be noted that Reo, which is well below capacity, can be configured with Atwood and Cavanaugh.  Similarly, Wainwright can be reconfigured with Rich/Averill.  Of course, it is also being discussed as being able to fit into the largely empty wing at Gardner.  There has been discussion with regard to Otto – that the schools which are reconfigured in the Gier Park/Sheridan Road/Willow area could have some or all of its classrooms located in the Otto excess capacity.  The latest MEAP scores should be looked at to help in determining which schools are offering the best education for the students.  It should also be noted that the administration has pointed out that among the most expensive schools to operate are Gier Park, Reo, Averill, Cumberland, Wainwright, Forest View, Sheridan Road, North, and Elmhurst.  This should also be a factor in determining the greatest efficiencies from closing or restructuring a school.  With regard to building expenditures in high schools for 2009/2010, which is the latest data that we have been provided, please note that Eastern and Everett had an expense per student of approximately $7,100, while Sexton’s expense per student was $8,600.

7.         It is also important to look at busing patterns when considering capacity in a school.  Obviously, with the Magnet Program, the capacity should be over 80% and probably 90% to justify all the busing expense.  If a Magnet School is not in that order of capacity, then it should not be considered an effective magnet.  On the other hand, we should discuss busing patterns with our administration so that we know if other busing patterns are supporting the capacity of the school so that it is not, in effect, a neighborhood school.  I believe one school that has significant busing is Bingham, and that should be looked at in connection with their status as a neighborhood school.  On the other hand, if a school does not have significant neighborhood attendance but is a school of choice, with the parents delivering youngsters there as opposed to the buses delivering youngsters there, this should be a positive factor in leaving the school open.

8.         It seems that this particular Restructuring Committee has completely ignored the criteria that we have used in the past in giving us information about schools that might be candidates for closure or restructuring in our prior reports.  At the lower end of the scale in the previous point total criteria with regard to elementary schools was Elmhurst, Reo, Wainwright, and Willow.  Those schools should continue to be looked at. Obviously, Rich and Otto were the lower end with regard to the middle schools.  And Sexton was at the low end with regard to high schools.

9.         There is a lot of talk about an era of decline in the District.  The proposition seems to be assuming that an era of decline has come because of population decline in the district.  While the population has declined in the district, the basic fundamental facts are that the student population does not appear to have changed.  Check the enrollment of the Lansing School District in 2000/2001 and you will see that it was in the neighborhood of 18,000 students.  Today, it is in the neighborhood of 13,500 students.  This is a loss of 4500 students which, coincidentally, is the number of students who are living in the Lansing District who attend schools in charters or outside the District.  Therefore, the emphasis on enrollment decline should really be directed at our failure to satisfy the parents and students in our District rather than an assumption that the District cannot ever return to an 18,000 student district.

10.       Recently, in the Lansing School District, we have had around 1,200 – 1,300 entering 9th graders in our high schools and it can be seen that we generally have 600 in the graduation class.  Obviously, some of these students go to other districts, and other states.  Some of them drop behind their class’ progress so that they are in the 10thgrade when they should be in 12th grade, but the basic point is that we are losing in the range of 600 students out of each freshman class.  There has been very little discussion in any of the restructuring reports or by the administration or the Board about the issue of attempting to retain these students so that they can graduate from our high schools.  If we simply retain 300 more of each entering class, we would have approximately 900 more students in high school.  So instead of having 3,367 students in high school, we would have 4,267.  This would mean that we would be able to fill 3 high schools to the extent of around 1,500 students.  Obviously, it would be very difficult to take that same student count and put it into two high schools.  Therefore, it seems like the District should be focusing its attention on students currently in the District and having them succeed and graduate with their class. This, of course, should be the basic conversation of the District and all aspects of its education and retention of students in the District should be a major consideration at all grade levels.  If we did a better job of retaining students, we would not be discussing the closing of any high school.

11.       In a similar manner, the data is that we have lost a total of 4,500 students to other districts and charter schools.  The data also shows that we bring back 1,000 to 1,500 of these students each year, since we lose about 2,200 a year.  This data can be more competently gathered on precise terms from Mr. Killips in the data department. This should also be a topic for discussion and emphasis for the District instead of simply surrendering to the fact that we have got to lose students to other districts.  The reason why this should be discussed with more emphasis is that we do bring back 1,000 – 1,500 students a year.  In fact, last year we brought back an equivalent number of students to those who left the District, according to our data department.  There should be a survey and an emphasis on why the students come back, why they leave, and how we can do a better job of retaining students with the District. These are two separate issues.  The one issue involves retaining kids in schools so that they actually graduate, and the second issue is retaining kids in the District so that they don’t leave the Lansing School District.  Both of these issues have been discussed and pointed out to the Restructuring Committees but there is no discussion of these points.  There is no good reason why the administration and the Board do not emphasize this as a mission statement. It is obvious that the new superintendent should be engaged in how these two issues can be handled to the benefit of the District.

12.       It should also be noted that alternative education was not considered by the Restructuring Committee.  This is customarily in the order of 400 – 500 students and they are a very important part of our ability to attain the proper graduation rate.  These are additional students that need to be served by the district and need to have class time. The location of these students was not discussed by the Restructuring Committee and needs to be a point of emphasis in the District.

13.       It has been demonstrated clearly that Eastern has approximately 200 students who are at Eastern but are not in the Eastern attendance area.  Fifty-three live in the Everett attendance area, 156 are from the Sexton area, and 22 are from surrounding school systems.  It is quite clear that most of these students would not attend another high school in the Lansing District.  If we use the number 200, then we can see that by closing Eastern, we would lose approximately 200 students at $7,000 a student, or $1,400,000.  Add to this the data which has been previously supplied that we have experienced a 15% reduction in student count from closing elementary school buildings and you can see that we would lose approximately another 150 students.  By these figures there would be a loss annually of $2,450,000.  This would not be a one-time loss, but would occur over a series of years. There is no way that this can be made up by closing Eastern, since the savings of closing Eastern is always approximated at about $1,000,000 to $1,200,000.

14.       There is discussion about having a K-12 IB program at Pattengill.  The IB Coordinator at Eastern should be consulted on the reality of the possibility of this happening.  For the IB program that remains, after the restructuring, it should be centered at Eastern.  It’s quite obvious that teachers are well-trained at Eastern, and it’s quite obvious that it is much easier to bring over 7th and 8th graders to Eastern for IB training than to send 11th and 12th graders to Pattengill.  The whole concept makes no sense.  Further, there is no logical possibility of the Post Oak parent group accepting that they would be consolidated with 11th to 12th graders in the Pattengill building.  This idea simply has no practical feasibility.  If anybody believes it is feasible, then it’s obvious that a survey should be taken of the parent group to see what their response might be.  Another aspect with Pattengill is that it seems very inappropriate to take Pattengill offline for the general education of the Lansing community.  It should not be set up as a special conduit school.  The reason for this is that it was recently built by taxpayers’ money and millage from all taxpayers in the community.  It is not appropriate to take the building offline for general public education.

15.       It should also be noted that the earlier bond issue which funded Pattengill as a new building also allocated several million dollars to improvements in the secondary school buildings.  All the three high schools had several million dollars allocated for the reconstruction and reconfiguring of the high schools, particularly with regard to the addition of computer and science labs.  It would not be appropriate to shut down a high school after spending all this millage money on improving the buildings.  This would make the school district appear to be completely dysfunctional in its long-range planning process.

16.       It is clear that the best efficiencies that would be forthcoming would be from the efficiencies in connection with the utilization of our bigger buildings.  It makes no sense to take offline a high school or a middle school with its capacity in favor of an elementary school with the capacity of 250 – 300 students.  This is not the way to project efficiencies for the future.  A very good example of a building that should remain online, even though it is way below capacity, is North Elementary School.  It is a building with large capacity, which should be utilized and all efforts should be made to consolidate into North a smaller elementary school that is not being used to capacity.  This is totally sensible and it is the right direction for the District to take, and it is what we have done successfully in the past. Another good example involves consolidation of some elementary grades into Otto, Rich and Gardner. A perfect example would be the transfer of the Wainwright program to one of these schools.  This is only sensible and is the proper way to proceed in creating efficiencies in the District.

17.       As another item affecting Eastern, there is consideration being given to the Field House.  It is perfectly reasonable for the District to not want to pay for the cost of maintaining and rehabing the Field House.  This, however, should not be a cost attributed to Eastern.  It is a separate cost, and if the District does not want to undertake it, the discussion should be centered around whether or not we retain the Field House and not whether or not we retain Eastern.

18.       While the discussion above indicated that Pattengill should not be set aside as a building with a special focus, there is nothing wrong with utilizing Pattengill for the IB program for the higher elementaries and the middle school concept.  This IB program could have for classes that are offered to the entire school population, but if they are not appropriate to the entire school population, then the regular general education program will still be offered to the students attending Pattengill.

19.       The Eastern IB program does not have a significant number of students who are going for the IB diploma.  I understand it is in the neighborhood of 20 students.  Nevertheless, the IB Coordinator at Eastern should be consulted on the number of students at Eastern taking IB classes. This is a superior form of education.  We have been told that there are approximately 700 of the Eastern High School students who do participate in IB classes.

20.       Considering the number of students who will leave the Lansing School District from the closure of Eastern, another matter to be taken into account, is the fact that the 15% data is based on what occurred as our experience with elementary schools.  It should be noted that there would be even more significant departure with high school students since they are able to arrange for their own transportation and the whole idea of taking mass transit for high school students is much more feasible than that for an elementary student.

21.       Principle #5 in the Restructuring report with regard to the need for restructuring indicates how important small scale communities are.  It also emphasizes that larger buildings should be structured to establish schools within a school.  It is important that we keep in mind that with our at-risk student population, it is very important that we not have school populations that are impossible to manage.  It is unlikely that we could manage in the District high school buildings greater than 1,500 population.  The same goes with our middle schools of greater than 900 population.  The report of the Committee on School Restructuring is correct to emphasize the importance of small learning communities and we cannot have an impersonal building organization, and at the same time have a proper learning environment.

22.       It should also be noted that Eastern High School adjoins Sparrow Hospital and this should be a point of emphasis, not because Eastern can be sold to Sparrow Hospital, but because it is a perfect opportunity to create an alignment of careers in the health industry with students at Eastern High School.  Sparrow has opened the topic of conversation about trying to do more with health career programs.  The programs would undoubtedly involve some career classwork at high school level, and also at LCC, but there is an absolutely perfect correlation between the education and careers that could occur at Eastern with the students’ having good jobs in the health industry.

23.       In the report on page 10, it seems to be encouraging K-12 options.       Somebody would have to demonstrate where a K-12 program with general school-age population that we have in the Lansing School District is successful, and where it is successful, since it is very difficult to find any legitimate student or parental support for such an idea. As far as the suggestions on pages 11, 12 and 13 of the report, the thematic school idea, the pre-K through 3 buildings alongside 4 – 6 buildings seems like a good objective. The basic problem is Option D and there should not be a closure of Eastern for all the reasons set forth above.

24.       Finally, if there is going to be any financial analysis done with regard to the economic effect of restructuring, it should not be done by the Finance Committee set up under the Committee on School Restructuring, since the Chair of that committee has already determined that Eastern should be closed and has done no financial analysis that has been presented to the public.  He has not involved himself with committee meetings.  As the Committee Chair regarding Community Conversation made clear at the Board Meeting on the 15th, it appears that she and the Finance Committee Chair decided that the correct approach is not to be influenced by ideas from the parents, the students and the community, but to instead independently reach their own personally-prepared solutions and then attempt to “sell” these positions to the public.  This is exactly what the Chair said and it is the exact opposite of what is supposed to be happening with this Committee on School Restructuring.

25.       It should be noted that in connection with two of the committees, they did not hold meetings and, to my knowledge, are still not holding meetings.  Further, those two committees had chairs which definitely stated that Eastern should be closed.  There is no basis for that conclusion in any community conversation, or any conversation with parents or with students.  It should be noted that the two committees that did meet regularly at no time recommended the closure of a high school.  The closure of a high school concept came from the meetings of the four chairs with the two attending board members and the facilitator.  That concept did not come by way of any of the community conversation.

26.       Other points – discuss the reasons why Eastern does not make AYP and indicate in the beginning it was basically the failure of enough students to take the test.  Indicate the great diversity of Eastern and that Eastern has more subclasses for AYP criteria than any of the other high schools.  Then indicate the increased population of minorities and also indicate how we are achieving at Eastern on testing for the school population in general and not only the subcategories.  When I read those statistics, it appeared to me that Eastern was basically tied for Sexton on math and reading and that Everett was the worst performing school on a general population basis.  I think we should bring out these points and somebody should collect the data for a proper presentation.

Note: Board members’ names, let along email addresses, are not listed on the Lansing Schools website.  These may work:

myra.ford@lansingschools.net

nicole.armbruster@lansingschools.net

peter.spadafore@lansingschools.net

amy.hodgin@lansingschools.net

charles.ford@lansingschools.net

Guillermo.lopez@lansingschools.net

Shirley.rodgers@lansingschools.net

Nino.rodriguez@lansingschools.net

Rachel.lewis@lansingschools.net