It was welcome news to community organizers when MPS recently assigned director of school administration Anita Pietrykowski to take over discussions about the future of 68th Street School’s early childhood program and a community proposal to merge the program into nearby 81st Street School.
From the moment Pietrykowski joined the process everything has seemed to do a 180.
Community organizers have felt validated, there has reportedly been something of a detente between the school communities at 68th and 81st Street Schools and there appears to be a real dialog taking place between the district and the community, allowing the process to move forward.
“I think Anita, as the person guiding the merger process, is going to be a wonderful ally to our community and our schools,” wrote neighborhood resident and 68th Street School parent Elisabeth Witt in an e-mail to neighbors.
“She is determined to work out a school that is approved by the staffs but also endorsed by the neighborhoods. I think Anita very clearly sees the importance of working with our community.”
But the biggest news arrived this week as it became known that the district no longer appeared to oppose a merger between the schools. Apparently setting aside its own plan to move the 68th Street program to Kluge, four miles directly north, it has communicated to organizers from Cooper Park, Lenox Heights, Enderis Park, Enderis East and other surrounding neighborhoods that it will bring its own merger plan to the board’s Innovation and School Reform meeting on March 8.
There will be a meeting on the proposal on Monday, March 5 at 6 p.m. at 81st Street School on 81st and Chambers. I was unable to reach Pietrykowski for comment today (if I do reach her, I will update this post).
Although the meeting announcement states only that the administration’s proposal will be on the agenda, it doesn’t outline what the proposal includes. However, Witt, who has been helping to lead the organizing efforts, told community members in her e-mail that she spoke to Pietrykowski about it.
“The details, as far as I understood them, look like this,” wrote Witt, “the schools would merge this fall at the 81st Street building. 81st Street School would keep its middle school grades, but 68th Street school would move with only a K3 program for special needs students, a K4 program, their K5 program and a new first grade enrollment.
“During that 2012-13 year, the emphasis would be on team-building and on community participation in shaping what the school will be in 2013-14 and beyond. Questions of whether it will be a Community School, a K-5, a K3-5th or a K-8, will all be worked out during that year. Curriculum choices, busing choices,and other programming choices will also be worked out that year.”
Some of the message’s recipients responded quickly with concerns, including the potentially permanent loss of a wider K3 program.
“I asked specifically about whether larger K3 programming would be possible in the future, and (Pietrykowski) said yes,” wrote Witt. “As the budget becomes less of an issue in the upcoming years, and if the community truly wants K3, then it can be returned as early as 2013-14.
Another raised the practical issue of classroom space for the coming school year, noting that MPS administration has said that 81st Street School is already running at 105 percent capacity (last autumn’s Master Facilities Plan puts the building’s utilization at 95 percent). It’s unclear what adding more classrooms without subtracting any looks like, the writer said.
Yesterday, all the teachers at 68th Street School received “excess” letters, wrote another, meaning there is no longer a position at that particular location or in the school program for the recipient at the end of the current school year and it is unclear how many positions would exist as part of a proposed merger.
A couple neighbors expressed concern that keeping the middle school grades might undermine area residents’ support of the program, saying that support is key to the success of a merged “neighborhood school” program.
Witt said having K4 students in the same building as middle schoolers is probably the biggest concern for the neighborhoods and for the families of 68th Street students.
These issues will likely arise at Monday’s meeting and later in the week at the ISR meeting, too.