Tuesday, January 01, 2008

School stuff - recaps in two parts -- same meeting

I promised a report from the weekend meeting:

We had 8 adults (and 2 IB/IS students) meet and a chance appearance by someone whose architectural firm is doing some pro bono work looking at Schenley, as well. Better than we expected for a short notice, during vacation meeting! If there is interest in further informal meetings like this, let me know and I'll see what I can set up. There may be something for next weekend planned as well, details as I get them.

I'm putting this in order of length, rather than choosing some other way to organize it!

-- Before the meeting I spoke with someone from the Building/Fundraising group and was told that they "are in ongoing discussions with the district (administration) about saving the building." Overall, the impression is that they feel at least as positive as negative, which seems in the larger scheme quite positive!

-- We discussed the problem of the public hearings: we can ask questions and demand answers, but there is no mechanism for getting those answers. One suggestion is to come up with a list of specific questions that have already been asked /should be asked and present it to the administration, board and media, with a specific request for information and answers.

Questions may need to be divided into the easily answerable (who's in charge of..., who has been contacted, what are the research studies used, etc.) and those that can't be given short answers (what do you envision the district looking like in 2, 5, and 10 years? type questions). The goal of this list would be twofold -- getting answers and perhaps spurring a general meeting (or series of meetings) with board members, administration, program directors, etc. available to answer specific questions in an open house type format (rather than a one speaker/one topic type meeting).

It was suggested later that if this list were formed by January 14th (next board meeting) we could ask for volunteers to sign up and use their 3 minutes to read the list into the record.

If you have questions of this sort, send them along (or if someone wants to compile them, let me know!).

-- One of the contractors in our group spoke about the documents he's been able to look at -- the reports on the condition of the building and the estimates for repairs. Quickly, the 60-65M figure is the number that guts the building to the bare bones and remakes it -- including a 900K skylight for a gym. It's not (and never has been) the asbestos removal figure.

The asbestos removal figure is somewhere up to 8M. There is also an estimate of 38-42M (the higher number gets air-conditioning). That figure abates and/or removes asbestos, but doesn't gut the building. It takes advantage of the structure as it is (very wide hallways, etc.) and basically does all the needed changes (plumbing, electrical, technical), keeps the systems that are already new/newer (security/fire), and puts the new mechanicals above in front of the walls and puts new walls in front of them. That way, there's access to all needed systems, without having to gut the building. [Bear in mind that this is my translation of his simplifying for us!]

Anyway, there's more to it than I've been able to summarize and we still don't have all the information that was requested. But, it's at least enough to be able to explain to people you might talk with that we're not all crazy and that 60M isn't the asbestos figure! If you'd like more details about asbestos in the building or other building topics, let me know and I'll forward the email to someone who can answer you!

-- I reported some from the "Alternative Options Committee" which met with Derrick Lopez about high school reform. Generally, our meeting, while very informative, raised as many or more questions than we went in with. There are a lot of ideas (plans?) in the administration for reforming the high schools, but it's still very unclear what the overall plan or goals for the district as a whole are -- short or long term. It's also unclear how or when parental/community input will be integrated into planning. We did learn that there are four new committees (north, south, east, west) which will all be visiting and studying the high school "triads" (north of the rivers, south of the rivers, between the rivers, I think) over the next three months, planning reforms for three months and then asking for parent input after that (over the summer break, it would seem) before presenting a big plan in September 2008. We didn't get an answer as to who was on the committees or how they were chosen.

[warning: next paragraph is almost entirely my editorializing]
There are lots of reform ideas being kicked around (university partnerships, separate gender schools, more theme schools, more 6-12 schools) and some or many of them may be good, even great. However, it seems like the process being used is one we've become too familiar with already -- plan in secret, big announcement, shock and disdain that there are questions or concerns, last-minute cosmetic changes or tweaks. I'd love to see the district embrace a policy that comes up with a better process. No plan will ever satisfy everyone, but a plan that's had input from the beginning has a much better chance of building consensus -- or even becoming something that most people really want to see happen!

The Sunday Panera group also discussed the lack of vo-tech options in the city and how this seems to be still unaddressed in the high school reform plans we've heard so far.

Sorry for the length, summarizing is not my strong suit!

Jen Lakin

Another parent wrote about the same gathering:

A really quick report on our meeting Sunday at Panera -- Jen will be sending a more in-depth report (she actually took notes on her laptop!). Eight of us met for 2 hours at the Boulevard of the Allies Panera, sharing information and discussing what our next moves should be.

Nick discussed the engineering reports that the board has released so far so that we have a better understanding of what really needs to be done with the building to make it safe and useable. Complete information still has not been given to us.

The next board hearing is scheduled for Jan. 14 with sign-ups beginning Jan 7. Someone suggested that we try to coordinate our speeches somewhat so that we are sure that we hit the main talking points.

We would like to have a meeting with someone who can actually answer questions. The board hearings are good for us expressing our thoughts, but no one has answered the questions that are proposed.

We will continue to have meetings of interested parties until the final vote is made. If you want to become more involved, attend one of the meetings. Jen and I (and others) will attempt to keep parents up-to- date on the information that we have. Some of the information concerning funding cannot be disclosed yet but there are some people working very hard to try to save the building.

Now that the holidays are over, it is important that we keep pressing the issues. IF you are happy with the proposed plans, speak out. IF you are not happy with the proposed plans, or if you think that we have not been given enough information, speak out. Changes will be made next year whether or not we agree with them. If we make enough noise, maybe we can be part of the decision-making process. I am not confident that Mr. Roosevelt or Mr. Lopez or many of the board members understand the needs of our program (and our children) well enough to be making the changes that they have proposed.

If you wish to be removed from this email list, let me know. Hopefully, it will one day go back to being a communication mode for the IS/IB program. If you know of anyone who is interested in getting more information, please give them my email address and I will add them to the list.

amy moore

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