Education

Granite City school board to decide on ‘attendance center’ school structure

Pre-K teacher Ann Jarrett Mangiaracino reads a book to students at the Granite City Early Childhood Center.
Pre-K teacher Ann Jarrett Mangiaracino reads a book to students at the Granite City Early Childhood Center. News-Democrat file photo

Granite City school leaders soon will decide whether to switch elementary schools to “attendance centers” and move the Early Childhood Center out of its current building, while some parents circulate petitions in opposition.

Parents and other family members of children at the Granite City Early Childhood Center were picketing at the school as classes drew to a close last month. They are concerned about proposals to move the early childhood program out of its building — renovated for this purpose seven years ago — into another building.

The proposal is part of a larger plan to shift Granite City District 9 from its current network of neighborhood schools to “attendance centers,” where all district students of the same age will attend the same school.

The original proposal was to separate the early-childhood students across the district, but Superintendent Jim Greenwald said that is no longer the plan.

Instead, Greenwald said, they plan to move the early childhood program for special needs and at-risk preschoolers to an “attendance center” with the kindergarteners. “We listened, and this proposal will keep them all under one roof,” he said.

For Linda Knogl, a retired teacher and grandparent, keeping the children together doesn’t solve all the problems. The proposed early childhood/kindergarten attendance center would be on the edge of town, she said, whereas the current building is centrally located. Busing is not provided for early childhood students, and they only attend for 2.5 hours a day, so parents would have to drive across town and back, then return only a couple of hours later to retrieve the children.

“It’s a hardship for parents,” she said. She believes the plan is to move the early childhood children out so the administrative offices can move in, but Greenwald said that has not been decided.

A lot of people have gone into panic mode due to their own perception of what’s going on. Because of declining enrollment and empty classrooms in our district, we have to fiscally provide the best services.

Granite City School District 9 Superintendent Jim Greenwald

Currently, elementary students attend neighborhood schools near their homes, but by fifth grade, they go to attendance centers: all fifth- and sixth-graders go to Grigsby Elementary; all seventh- and eighth-graders go to Coolidge Middle School.

This proposal would apply that structure to all grades, Greenwald said. “The neighborhood schools are kind of a thing of the past,” he said.

Greenwald said there are a lot of advantages to attendance centers, where students are in buildings primarily with children of the same age, and that it may be more practical economically.

“A lot of people have gone into panic mode due to their own perception of what’s going on,” he said. “Because of declining enrollment and empty classrooms in our district, we have to fiscally provide the best services.”

But Knogl said there are many parents who are concerned about the attendance centers, and she and other parents are circulating petitions in opposition of the plan. They are aiming to have 2,000 signatures by the next school board meeting, she said.

Knogl said she does not believe it will be cost-effective, since the existing early childhood building will have to be renovated for adult use as the bathrooms and other facilities are all designed for very small children. The early childhood/kindergarten attendance center would have to be renovated as well, she said. She also questioned how much it will cost to provide transportation for students to the attendance centers.

“There’s a lot of money involved in this,” she said.

Greenwald said he does not believe the renovations will be cost-prohibitive. “I hope people would give us enough credit to know we have to tailor the new surroundings to the students,” he said. However, he did not have exact figures for public release.

Knogl said she and her fellow parents were frustrated by a lack of information. “If we knew exactly what they were planning, we wouldn’t be going on guesswork,” she said. “The board has refused to tell us anything about their plans. Rumors are running rampant, and we don’t know which are right and which are wrong.”

Greenwald said he respected Knogl and her group, and he believes they’ve had “considerable communication” with them to alleviate concerns. “The board and the administration have to be allowed to do their work,” he said. “Every move we make goes toward what’s best for our children.”

On Jan. 12, a full presentation will be made to the District 9 school board, Greenwald said. A decision may or may not be made at that meeting, he said, and it has been moved to the Granite City High School performing arts center in anticipation of a big turnout. But he said he did not feel it was appropriate to release the full proposal in advance of the meeting where it would be presented to the board.

They could have gotten our support, but instead they have gained our distrust. We may lose this, but we are going down fighting… The only thing we can do is make the public aware of what’s happening.

Linda Knogl, a retired teacher and grandparent

But Knogl said she believes the public should have advance notice. “Maybe there are some things in it that are good, some that are not good, but to leave the public in the dark until the night they vote on it?” she said. “It’s just ridiculous.”

In a message to parents posted on the Granite City district website, Greenwald said the district has to make some restructuring changes to balance the budget. He reminded them that in April, the voters turned down a referendum to increase property taxes to support the district.

“We understand that and fully respect the decision by the voting public,” he wrote. “We have made major transparent cuts the past few years which still allow us to provide an outstanding education for our children and a great extra-curricular program. We have no intention of compromising those services.”

But Knogl said the board needs to be more open with parents if they want their support.

“They could have gotten our support, but instead they have gained our distrust,” she said. “We may lose this, but we are going down fighting… The only thing we can do is make the public aware of what’s happening.”

Elizabeth Donald: 618-239-2507, @BNDedonald

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