The Rochester school board voted 6 to 0 last night (with board member Cynthia Elliott absent) to close School 16 in the 19th Ward, but only for repairs. It will re-open after repairs are completed.
In the interim, kindergarten through eighth-grade classes will be housed at Freddie Thomas High School in northeast Rochester, beginning this coming September. School 16’s pre-kindergarten classes will be housed at the Walter Cooper Academy on Congress Avenue.
The board’s decision went against the recommendation of Superintendent Bolgen Vargas, who didn’t want to commit to repairing and re-opening School 16. The costs to make the more than 100-year-old building functional exceed $6 million, he says.
Vargas proposed closing the school and deciding its fate later in the context of a comprehensive review of all of the city’s schools. Because of declining enrollment, he says, the district doesn’t need all of its buildings. Vargas plans to give the board a report in October that weighs the need for space against the cost of repairs for some schools.
But School 16 parents and residents of the 19th Ward were angry about the prospect of closing School 16. Although few of them spoke last night, about 60 attended the meeting, including City Councilmember Adam McFadden. School 16, some parents said, is a much-needed neighborhood school, and they received some encouragement from board member Mary Adams. If parents and residents want neighborhood schools, she said, they need to speak up in support of them.
The board’s decision on School 16, however, didn’t please everyone. Parents and teachers of the district’s Montessori school, which is housed at Freddie Thomas, said school district officials are again stepping back from their commitment to let the school have its own designated space in that building. The small Montessori school, which serves mostly younger children, was housed previously at Franklin High School, which has served mostly older students and where discipline problems have been a concern. While they support plans to repair School 16, the Montessori parents and teacher said, they don’t want that school’s students moved to Freddie Thomas.
“We’re treated like the poor step-child,” said parent Harriet Fisher. The school is one of a handful of schools in the district with a waiting list of prospective students.