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‘A Band-Aid for a larger systemic issue’: Community discusses potential MCCSC elementary merger

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A packed school board room watched Brinley Menkedick as she pulled down the microphone, pushing up onto her tiptoes to reach the rest of the way. Glancing at the paper in her hand, she read to the crowd: 

“I'm a third-grade student at University Elementary School,” Menkedick said. “I believe that fourth, fifth and sixth grade should not go to Fairview. University is a special place.” 

Over 20 people presented support for or concerns about a potential elementary school merger strategy report to the Monroe County Community School Corporation’s Board of School Trustees on Tuesday evening. The meeting focused on public comment and discussion of this plan, but members and MCCSC staff also presented updates on racial discipline disparity as part of the district’s strategic plan, as well as legislative concerns and new anti-racism policies. 

What is the merger report? What’s coming next? 

Superintendent Jeff Hauswald originally presented the merger report at a board meeting Dec. 12, 2023. The report aims to balance socioeconomic status between schools, which is defined as the percentage of students who qualify for free and reduced lunch. 

The strategy, as reported in December, identifies two pairs of elementary schools: Childs Elementary and Templeton Elementary, and University Elementary and Fairview Elementary. Over the course of a three- year transition period, these schools would divide by grade level, rather than district.  

Childs would enroll all pre-K through second grade students in both its own and Templeton’s district, and Templeton would enroll all students from third through sixth grade. The other pair would face a similar situation, where University would enroll students from pre-K through third grade, and Fairview would enroll students from fourth through sixth grade. 

Many of the commenters said they supported redistricting instead of the report’s plan, which the board suggested was a historically contentious process. The districts haven’t changed in decades, according to The Herald-Times, but neighborhood populations have shifted; supporters think this could also help balance socioeconomic status.  

Board member Brandon Shurr proposed narrowing the merger to two schools, opening parent and teacher forums to get more information and considering both a merger plan and redistricting.  

The board approved a motion based on this, narrowing the merger to Templeton Elementary and Childs Elementary and setting a timeline.  

Before the board’s meeting in March, it will open conversations with these schools’ parents and teachers, open an online question portal and gather more information. At the March meeting, the board will rely on this information to discuss a Childs-Templeton consolidation plan and redistricting as two separate agenda items. 

Different sides of the merger discussion 

Twenty-five people registered for public comment at Tuesday’s meeting, nearly all of whom discussed the merger. 

Colleen Rose, a Templeton Elementary parent and spouse to a Templeton teacher, pointed to the correlation between test scores and socioeconomic status, specifically in relation to “stark disparities” in socioeconomic differences between Templeton Elementary and Childs Elementary. The merger report states that in 2023, 64% of Templeton students were eligible for free and reduced lunch, compared to 15% of Childs students. She said she hopes the school board takes progressive action to integrate schools. 

“The problem before our community is irrefutable: we have a segregated school system,” Rose said. “To not take action now is to say both as a community and to our kids that we prefer segregation over progress.” 

Nathaniel Grow, a MCCSC parent, raised concerns about the standing plan. He said it did not address costs, revenue impacts, or logistical challenges like the busing system, which would have to transport students much farther. Grow also wanted more clarity on why these schools were chosen, particularly regarding the schools’ diversity. 

“If you're going to do this, it needs to be a district wide solution that ensures that the benefits and the burdens of this process are shared equally amongst all families in the district,” Grow said. Arbitrarily selecting a handful of winners and losers and continuing to do business as usual otherwise, that’s not equity.” 

Kaitlin King, a social worker and Templeton Elementary parent, stressed the emotional toll this would take on kids in the wake of returning to pre-pandemic normalcy.  

“The kids who will be impacted by this proposed school change are the ones that did not receive preschool, did kindergarten on the iPad, had to sit three feet apart and face forward during school days and could not be rough and tumble on the playground,” King said. “Though the economic disparities in our district desperately need to be addressed, the current proposal feels very much like a Band-Aid for a larger systemic issue.” 

In discussion after public comment, board members responded to commenter concerns. Board President April Hennessey stressed the importance of diversifying schools. Having more integrated schools, she said, is a more effective academic intervention than simply increasing funding to a more impoverished school and can increase student access to resources. 

Other meeting highlights 

Commenters and board members alike also raised concerns about the ongoing state legislative session. Board of trustees assistant secretary Ashley Pirani, who serves as legislative liaison, highlighted bills like Indiana Senate Bill 1, which would require third graders who do not pass IREAD-3 to be held back, Senate Bill 145, which would provide tax credits to charter schools, and House Bill 1376, which changes referendum requirements. Pirani and commenters stated opposition to several bills, which are moving rapidly through a short legislative session. 

The deputy superintendent of curriculum and instruction, Markay Winston, gave an update on the district’s strategic plan; specifically, the district’s efforts to reduce discipline disparity. The five-year plan began implementation in 2021 and aims to improve in the areas of equity, diversity, funding and communication. 

New policies surrounding anti-racism measures for students, support staff and professional staff were presented for first reading. These policies parallel current student anti-racism policy, but with additions for teachers and staff, Hauswald said. They follow community forums involving MCCSC staff and the NAACP, according to Hauswald, and they recommend preventative educational measures to raise awareness of discrimination.  

The next MCCSC Board of Trustees meeting will take place at 6 p.m. on Tuesday, Feb. 27.

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