Roosevelt Elementary School, located at the corner of Athens and Lincoln Avenues, was built in 1922 as the result of a petition by residents. It is one of three elementary schools that will be demolished and rebuilt, if voters pass the school levy.
Given the remarkable generosity shown by the overwhelming majority of voters each of the last two times the Lakewood School District has sought property tax increases, there can be little doubt about the outcome of the November General Election, when the district will almost certainly get the green light from residents to fund the final stage of its Long-Range Master Facilities Plan.
Superintendent Jeff Patterson held a community meeting on Wednesday last week at Lakewood High School to share the district’s tentative construction plan should voters approve the bond and levy issue.
If passed, three elementary schools — Roosevelt, Lincoln, and Grant – along with the east end of the high school would be demolished and rebuilt. The 40 temporary trailers parked on Franklin Boulevard across from the high school would be removed.
The bond and levy would cost the owner of a home with a $100,000 tax value an additional $132 each year. The district must get voter approval within 13 months or otherwise it will lose its place in line for a 50% funding match from the state, which is estimated to be about $50 million.
Superintendent Patterson told the audience that moving the remainder of the city’s public school students into modern buildings would create equality in access to technology, learning spaces, and safety and security.
He said the new buildings would have lower long-term operating costs, increased efficiencies, and improve the city’s property values.
State has been ‘excellent’ to work with
In an operation this important and costly, it is fair to wonder who will be driving the project.
According to Patterson, the district and the state will be equal partners.
“The state will be co-owners of the project from Day One,” he said. “They’ve been excellent to work with.”
To illustrate the quality of the relationship, Patterson shared an example of a conflict that arose in the last six months when there was a “significant difference” between the 10-year enrollment projections generated by the state and those created by the district.
“We sat down in a room on the telephone with a whole bunch of folks,” he said, “and we hammered it out and they gave us [permission to rebuild] that third elementary school in our plan.”
Patterson cited the experience as proof that if “we show them what Lakewood is…about, they’re willing to support us.”
Effort will be made to minimize disruptions during demo and construction
One obvious challenge of the construction project is the need to temporarily re-locate hundreds of students while their schools are demolished and rebuilt.
The process of indentifying sites within in the city capable of supporting the district’s needs is still in the initial stage and nothing has been decided.
Patterson said student safety would the primary concern, as well as the temporary facility’s capacity, cost of renovation and operation, and distance from students.
Patterson recalled that students were kept at two separate churches when Hayes Elementary School was under construction.
“It wasn’t the best necessarily for our kids,” he said, but they were resilient and ended up with a “beautiful school.”
The superintendent will meet with the parents of affected elementary school students over the next 60 days and listen to their concerns about the situation.
“You have my word that before we remove one brick,” he said, “our transition plans will be finalized and communicated to everyone in the community.”
Best case scenario: three schools done in fall ’16, high school in Jan. ’17
Assuming voters approve a property tax increase, the architecture team would be selected in December followed by the construction team in January 2014.
The school transition sites would be completed over the course of the summer and opened in August 2014.
Removal of asbestos and school demolition would start in June 2014 and continue through October 2014. Construction specifications would be released and go to bid in early 2015.
Construction would begin in late 2015, and in the best case scenario, the elementary schools would be completed by fall 2016 and the high school would be finished by January 2017.
Superintendent elaborates on state report card results
The Ohio Department of Education’s revamped 2012-2013 report card for the district contained a mixed-bag of results.
The superintendent said from his perspective, the most important result was that the average Lakewood public school student in grades 4 through 8 significantly exceeded the expected level of academic achievement in reading and math when graduating from one grade to the next. Overall, Lakewood ranked among the top 9% of all Ohio public school districts in that category.
“When you take a look at the diversity that we have in this community and in our school district, to me that is an amazing achievement,” he said.
He was also very proud of the West Shore Career-Technical District’s top ranking.
Patterson cautioned the audience about the limits of the state report card.
“The only thing that’s really measured in this report card are the academic pieces, mostly based on one test that is given during the school year,” he said. “It’s one snapshot of one particular day or group of days while kids are taking tests.”
Low rating for gifted-student program caused head-scratching
Patterson admitted his administration was “startled” by the low grade the gifted-student program received and the suggestion its students were not progressing very well academically from one year to the next.
“We spent the first few days scratching our heads,” he said. “We don’t have all of the answers. I’m going to be very frank with you.”
Patterson’s best guess was that gifted students tested poorly because the state exam covered material geared toward their current grade level rather than the advanced material they were actually studying.
“We can sit and we can point our fingers, we can give excuses, that’s not what I’m here about today,” Patterson said, and added that a different kind of state exam would be available next year to address the discrepancy.
“I don’t think for a moment that our teachers aren’t doing a great job in the classroom,” he said.
Student subgroups struggle with progress
The school system’s worst grade on the state report card was in gap closing, where it earned an F.
Gap closing concerns how well all of the district’s students are doing in reading, math, and graduation and answers the question, is every student succeeding, regardless of income, race, culture or disability?
The grade was determined by separating the district’s students into subgroups (white, multiracial, African-American, Hispanic, Asian/Pacific islander, limited English, economic disadvantage, students with disabilities, all students) and measuring the subgroups’ achievement levels against minimum standards set by the state.
White and multi-racial student subgroups met the standards, while the other student subgroups did not.
“This is this the area that we’ve struggled with the most in our school district,” Patterson acknowledged.
Patterson said the district is much more diverse than surrounding school districts, which might only have four or five of the subgroups. To have a certain subgroup, the district must have at least 30 students who fit the specified demographic.
He pointed out that the district has “quite a number” of students for whom English is a second language, including several pupils who are not long removed from refugee camps.
“Now can you image a 13-year-old that moves into Lakewood [from a refugee camp] and a year later their taking a test and they don’t have a full understanding to the English language? They’re going to struggle,” he remarked.
High school graduation rate poor, but better than it was 40 years ago
The district’s four-year graduation rate of 81.5% earned a D from the state.
Patterson said the percentage will almost certainly improve as the district adapts its record-keeping to comply with the state’s revised regulations. It hadn’t been actively tracking the outcome of students who left the district and graduated from high school elsewhere. As the result, it was penalized in the final calculation of the formula.
Patterson mentioned the current graduation rate is greater than it was when the city had a larger, more prosperous population.
“If you go back into the 1970s and 1960s and look at the graduation rates,” he said, “it wouldn’t be as good then as it is now. We had a lot of kids who used to drop out of our school systems. Today we’re doing a much better job.”
District’s flaws shouldn’t dissuade voters
At the conclusion of his speech, Patterson told the story of how Michelangelo sculpted the statue of David out of a block of marble with imperfections.
He said, like Michelangelo and his masterpiece, the community shouldn’t let a preoccupation with the district’s flaws obscure its view of the school system’s prospects.
“We cannot lose this opportunity to provide quality pieces of learning for our students due to a few imperfections,” he said, referring to the upcoming election. “We must help everyone see the potential in our plan.”