2006-03-23 / Front Page

Lawn Ave. school's island future secure for the moment

By Donna K. Drago

At its March 16 meeting, the School Committee discussed how to diffuse growing concern from the community that the Lawn Avenue School will close in the future.

Superintendent Kathy Sipala said she had heard several comments from people that indicated to her that there was a lot of confusion about the middle school's future.

Sipala told the school board, "I don't want to lose one family or one student because of uncertainty." Sipala added, "We have to grapple with this."

Other members of the school board agreed they had also heard discussion from members of the community about the uncertainty of the Lawn school.

The School Committee agreed that no matter what is decided about the future of the middle school, any changes were not likely to happen for several years.

Concerns began several months ago during School Committee workshops on reorganizing and restructuring geared to tighten up efficiency and costs in the school district.

In January, Councilman Bill Kelly took the discussion a step further by suggesting that the Lawn school be closed and grade 7 and 8 students be educated offisland.

School Committee Chairwoman Cathy Kaiser brought up the idea of surveying members of the community to see how certain groups felt about sending students off-island for junior high.

Without really knowing what the town sentiment is regarding sending not only high schoolers but also junior high students to another town to be educated, the committee cannot determine which direction to take on the issue.

"C'mon. Give us a hint," Kaiser said about community input, "Where should we be aiming here?" Kaiser asked rhetorically.

A discussion on who should be included in a survey ensued between members of the school board, with some of them asking to poll only members of the school community and others advocating for input from the community at large.

School board member William "Bucky" Brennan said that taxpayers should be included in the survey because many of the reasons for sending students offisland have to do with cost-saving measures that will impact everyone.

"The whole community is the community," Brennan said, casting his vote to survey everyone.

Julia Held, another member of the School Committee said that it was most important to get information from the "educational community."

Kaiser said, "You want people with an immediate experience in the schools to answer" the survey questions.

It was decided that the superintendent would call some professional surveying companies to begin the process to design a survey to solicit response from the school community.

"We can't wait any longer," Sipala said, noting that she would begin the survey immediately.

Whether or not students are educated off-island directly impacts whether the school district should look to add a full or part-time administrator at the Lawn school. School Committee Vice Chairman Julie Kallfelz said, "We can't let time pass without addressing the leadership at Lawn."

Members Held and Kallfelz volunteered to head up an advisory committee on the survey initiative.

An informal survey asking "Should Jamestown's junior high students be educated off-island?" is now on the Press' Web site at www.jamestownpress.com.

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