News & Opinion » News

Two school communities in limbo


Parents, teachers, and staff at School 1 knew that their school was scheduled to get work done soon — part of a $1.3 billion districtwide overhaul. They did not know, however, that the district was considering combining School 15 with their school. The proposal was made earlier this year, but nobody told them.

"It just fell through the cracks," says school board member Willa Powell. "No one knows why."

They finally did learn of the proposal at a meeting earlier this month.

The School 15 community did know about the proposal, but aren't totally on board. Many like the school's small size and don't want that to change, although they may not have a choice, Powell says.

School 15 needs a new home because Monroe High School annexed its space; the school was on Monroe's campus. School 15 and School 1 in the Cobbs Hill neighborhood are similar in that both are elementary schools and draw students from across the city. They also aren't far apart. So combining the schools seemed like a good idea to the schools construction board, which oversees the project and came up with the proposal.

But given the communications breakdown and the backlash, school board members have instructed the construction board to come up with a new set of recommendations. The construction board has two weeks, and the new recommendations must include input from parents, a list of options, and a timeline for implementation, says Van White, the school board's president.

The big challenge is what to do with the School 15 population now that the space at Monroe is no longer available. School 15 students are currently housed in temporary or "swing" space in a district building on Upper Falls Boulevard.

Coming up with an alternative proposal to the School 1 combination will be difficult because the district's building inventory has shrunk, White says.

School 15 is an exceptionally popular school in the Rochester school district, and Powell says that she would like to see it expanded or duplicated.

"I recommended that the school be doubled in size," she says. "That would make it an average size school."

But many parents say that School 15's small size is what drew them to the school in the first place.

The fate of School 1 both short and long term is uncertain. Even though the school is scheduled for construction soon, there's been no word on where the students will go while the construction is taking place.

And the School 1 community is worried that changes to the building or the way that the school operates could jeopardize the work that the school does with autistic students.

"The school houses a large number of autistic students and they have difficulty adapting to big changes," Powell says. "So there is a lot of sensitivity about changes to that school."

Complicating everything is a lawsuit filed by the building trades against the construction board, which could delay the entire overhaul project. The unions say that the board was out of line when it rejected a Project Labor Agreement for the second phase of school improvements.