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Parents want Ripon Unified to close a school

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POSTED April 9, 2013 1:47 a.m.

Closing one elementary school to raise the daily attendance in others was presented as a solution Monday night to school district trustees as a way to restore electives and broaden the education opportunities of Ripon Unified students.

Jennifer Brogan and Karina Ilardi – both educators – are co-founders of (PLASS) Parents Actively Linked to Student Success who met recently with members of their support group in the Ripon High School Library.

“This was a terrific meeting with collaboration from parents, administrators and Mr. Oase,  our school board member.  At this meeting we talked about the challenges the district faces regarding declining enrollment and some ideas to remedy the situation,” Brogan said.

Ilardi was also quick to voice her concerns.

“We need to include more electives, return GATE at the elementary schools and include more opportunities for students to be well rounded learners by including more science, social studies, art and music to the curriculum,” she said.

The two mothers said a huge problem is the “singleton classes” that don’t allow students to change classrooms for their choice of elective classes.  Teachers were quoted from that meeting as saying instructors are currently unable to collaborate with each other for better teaching methods.

Teachers with lower seniority are reportedly being bumped out of their grade level and even out of their schools, she added, resulting in lower morale and effectiveness.

“Many times teachers have a niche and a passion for teaching a certain grade level.  Imagine an exceptional eighth grade teacher who is very skilled in teaching the advanced math students being placed in a first grade class at a different school or a phenomenal sixth grade teacher being moved to third grade.  These events could be avoided if we eliminated the singleton classes,” she said.

The two team leaders launched PALSS last year when they were concerned with the numbers of students they saw leaving the district schools.

“We can’t provide what we need to provide in five schools with our current numbers of students. We need to increase the enrollment at each of the (remaining) elementary sites so singleton classes can be avoided completely,” she said.

There are currently 2,118 students enrolled at the five elementary schools.  In closing one of the five schools,  the average enrollment of 400 students per school would increase to nearly 600, eliminating the singleton classes through the cost savings of not operating the one school.

With the one site left open, there would be several options for the district, she explained.  After the construction work on Weston Elementary, the district could opt for possibly a K-3 Annex similar to Manteca schools or open a district sponsored charter school or academy in Ripon that would draw students (and funding) from surrounding communities.

“Twenty elementary students left the district last year for charter schools,” Ilardi said, “with approximately $120,000 lost in average daily attendance from the state.”

She pointed out that a visual and performing arts charter school or a STEM charter could be started as an outgrowth of the vision to change the economic base of the district.

The PALSS leaders focused on another option that could make use of the Ripon Elementary School property to expand the adjacent high school campus, allowing it to remain near the downtown core as it grows in numbers. 

The idea that the district will take care of the singleton classes with the building of Weston Elementary and seeing those students displaced into other school sites does not fix the problem, Ilardi explained.

She added that parents are looking for opportunities for their children to recieve a well-rounded education.

“We need to remember that our focus in education is to educate each individual and become a well-rounded society member, not just someone who can do math and language arts.  I think the biggest reward you would see from doing these types of things would be that kids will love school again – learning becoming fun and not just more paperwork,” she said.

Ilardi called on the board to be proactive as a district and not merely reactive to the things that they cannot control.  She said that by adding more options to the K-8 system it  will be more attractive to parents and show them that you are striving to meet the needs of all the students.

“We want to keep Ripon the jewel of the valley and by providing a rigorous, well-rounded educational system and a well throughout master plan for the district that appeals to all families will help keep the jewel sparkling,” she said.    

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