(Iowa City Press-Citizen "Our View," June 11, 2009)
When Roosevelt Elementary opened on Jan. 11, 1932, the students, parents and administrators were relieved. The opening had been delayed because of the poor condition of the road in the vicinity of the building, and the students had spent the previous few months being bussed over to then 14-year-old Mann Elementary. The new school continued to be the victim of planning problems, but soon became intrinsically tied to the growth, development, decline and revitalization of the Miller-Orchard neighborhood for the next 77 years.
On Tuesday, the Iowa City School Board voted unanimously to separate the elementary school from the neighborhood's future. The decision means that -- sometime after the close of the 2010-11 school year -- the Roosevelt building will cease to function as a K-6 school. Neighborhood advocates already have begun shifting from their attempts to "Save Roosevelt School" and are beginning to work to ensure that they play an important role in determining how the building will be "repurposed."
All the stakeholders seem to recognize that Tuesday's vote is just the beginning, rather than the end, of this process. There still is a lot of work to do before that day two years from now when Roosevelt's educational staff and student population moves on either to Horn Elementary or to the new school to be built off of Camp Cardinal Road.
The Iowa City area community needs to spend that time:
• Grieving the loss of Roosevelt.
Regardless of how the Roosevelt building gets repurposed, members of the Roosevelt community have begun grieving the loss of a school that will have served them for just shy of eight decades.
We're glad that, throughout the current debate over Roosevelt's future, both critics and proponents of the administration's plans have found at least one key piece of common ground: They both have praised Roosevelt's staff for overcoming barriers, defying the odds and managing to teach the students placed in their care.
Those Roosevelt success stories need to be remembered, retold and honored both before the last K-6 student exits the building in June 2011.
• Providing at least short-term fixes to Roosevelt's problems.
During the recent debate, the Roosevelt staff put together a long list of "Facility Barriers at Roosevelt." Although every school in the district shares some of the same difficulties, the sheer number of problems allowed to accumulate at Roosevelt is disturbing.
The list includes having:
• Many classrooms that are too small in terms of square footage;
• Grade-level rooms apart from one another;
• Only one room to serve as both gym and lunchroom;
• 10 teachers teach in outdoor portable classrooms;
• Multiple teachers share a room;
• Lengthy transition times to the outdoor classrooms;
• Inadequate electrical support in classrooms;
• No teacher workroom;
• No ADA-compliant entrances, sinks or toilets;
• Nine classrooms without sinks;
• Inadequate storage space and
• Only two sets of bathrooms for 326 students.
Addressing these concerns will be a difficult balancing act. District officials now need to ensure a safe and productive learning environment in a school building they no longer consider a good investment for continuing as a K-6 school.
To do so, district officials need to look well past the point at which the Roosevelt building is decommissioned and continue to address the school's resource and facility needs -- as they did with the recent projects to upgrade the school's media center and to tuck-point and weather-proof the building.
• Ensuring the same thing doesn't happen to other schools.
Because there are gross disparities between elementary schools throughout the district -- and because there seems to be a growing groundswell of support for addressing such disparities -- the school board has a rare opportunity to make a decision that should have been made by previous boards five, 10 or even 15 years ago.
Rather than limit themselves to redrawing boundaries only between the westside schools of Roosevelt, Kirkwood, Horn and Weber, the school board needs to initiate a districtwide redrawing of school boundaries at all levels.
There seemed to be a consensus from the board Tuesday night that such a process was long overdue. Board member Mike Cooper, for example, joked that he wished all the former board members who have been writing guest columns advocating for districtwide boundary changes would have actually implemented those changes back when they were on the board themselves.
We're happy to learn that the school board is interested in a serious discussion of boundary changes. Administration officials said they will be working with the University of Iowa to draw up several maps of what new school attendance areas could look like. Those models -- if used as teaching tools and not as actual recommendations -- will be an essential starting point for beginning what's sure to be a lengthy process of community input and tough decision-making.
There are no easy answers to how to redraw school boundaries, and boundary changes alone won't be a cure-all for the district's problems. But the Iowa City School District owes it to the Roosevelt community to make sure that the disruptions caused by Roosevelt's closing will help correct past mistakes and help even out student populations throughout the district.
Hopefully current school board members will make districtwide boundary change happen -- that way they won't be the ones writing guest editorials to future board members five, 10 or 15 years from now.