MCSD official says Edgewood was chosen based on location, not performances (Marshall hearing inside)

lgierer@ledger-enquirer.comMay 14, 2013 

Edgewood hearing:The chief operations and facilities officer for the Muscogee County School District told people at a public hearing on the proposed closing of Edgewood Elementary that the school was chosen for its location and the ability to repurpose the building.

"We did not compare school performances," MCSD's Myles Caggins said.

It is possible that alternative schools will be moved into the building and the current school population be divided among four other schools, he said.

Approximately 85 attended the hearing.

Most of them praised the academic excellence of Edgewood and felt a school with a lesser academic reputation should be closed instead. Several felt the school district administration and school board should taken more time to look at the issue, and some suggested alternative solutions, such as teacher furloughs.

Interim superintendent John Phillips has proposed that Edgewood and Marshall Middle School be closed to meet the upcoming budget.

A parent Michelle Brown said that closing the school would be sending a message to children that the children's hard work and success "doesn't mean anything."

She called the vote a "hurried solution" and feels the discussion should be tabled. She was upset that an interim superintendent was making such an important move.

City councilman Jerry "Pops" Barnes agreed that more time is needed and feels that keeping Edgewood is important because of the excellent academic reputation.

"If it's not broken, don't fix it," he said, the crowd cheering in approval.

Isaac Brown Jr. is the coordinator of the area's Neighborhood Watch. "We're trying to build this area," he said, adding that the school was an important part in that building.

Parent Joseph Hancock said he would not feel safe sending his child to Brewer and Rigdon Road. They might be good schools, he said, but the area worries him. "Everyone knows which streets you want to go down and which ones you don't," he said.

Parent Dianna Roberts said generations of her family have attended the school and criticized the selection of Edgewood just on location. "If this is not about performance, it should be," she said.

Roberts asked how having to bus more children could save the school district money. Caggins told her the cost of transportation will not increase.

Parent Kelly Thorne's child is in the school's gifted program. She shed tears as she spoke.

"The teachers here are wonderful," she said. "They work so hard with the children, and they are like family. Education, not money, should be the issue."

Donna Walton has her second child in the school. She lives in the Wesley Heights district.

"I had to fight to get my children here. That is how much I think of Edgewood," she said.

Marshall hearing:Amid all the grown-up talk about state budget cuts prompting the Muscogee County School District to consider closing schools, two Marshall Middle School Students spoke up during Tuesday night's public hearing.

Alexis McNall, a seventh-grader asked what would happen to her club that helped her win first place in digital photography at a state competition.

Then she asked what would happen to the students who participate in after-school sports when they are transferred to a school that's too far to walk home and their parents would have to leave work early to pick them up.

Then she asked why can't the district turn Marshall into a magnet academy to attract more students and fill up the building instead of closing it.

The crowd of about 100 in the school's cafeteria had plenty of questions.

Another successful student at Marshall, eighth-grader Aziaza Smith, gave a testimony to the impact the school has had on her.

She said she came to Marshall with "terrible behavior," but her teachers and principal Michael Forte helped turn her around.

Now, she is captain of the debate team that finished in the top 10 in Georgia. She also won a trophy in a math team competition.

"I don't think I could have gotten that anywhere else," she said. "A lot of people hadn't taken the time to care. … It's really not right to close it down. The students are getting the love they need at this school."

Aziaza's mother, Typhne Brown, said when her family moved to Columbus from Washington, D.C., her two children in middle school were assigned to Veterans Memorial on the north side. But they were transferred to Marshall when Veterans didn't meet the state standard of Adequate Yearly Progress, she said.

Brown said she was "disgruntled" at first with that move because of the bad reputation of the school and neighborhood. Now, she feels her children attend an "excellent" school.

She praised Forte and the teachers for devoting their time.

"It took Dr. Forte to take an interest in her potential," Brown said. "It is rare to have teachers that really care. A lot of teachers in this district are there just to get the paycheck."

Brown wondered aloud whether the low enrollment at Marshall -- the lowest among MCSD's 12 middle schools -- would have happened if the school had the resources that others have in the district, such as foreign language courses and bleachers and lights on the football field.

"It shouldn't always be about the money when it comes down to our children," she said.

Rob Varner, the school board's chairman and District 5 representative, was the lone board member at the Marshall hearing, while others attended the Edgewood hearing.

"This is the worst dadgum decision that this school district has to make," Varner said about the proposed school closings. "The district is facing a long-term, systemic decline in funding. There is no way around this."

Melvin Blackwell, the MCSD student services chief, thanked the residents for attending, voicing their concerns and asking their questions. He said the information would be compiled and shared with all board members and district officials before the board votes on the final proposal Monday.

Public hearings

The last of the two public hearings about the proposed closing of Edgewood Elementary School and Marshall Middle School will be conducted today at 6 p.m.

• Edgewood cafeteria, 3835 Forrest Road.

• Marshall cafeteria, 1830 Shepherd Drive.

The Muscogee County School Board is scheduled to vote on the recommendation during Monday's 6 p.m. meeting in the Muscogee County Public Education Center, 2960 Macon Road.

For more information, contact Muscogee County School District communications director Valerie Fuller at communications@muscogee.k12.ga.us or 706-748-2034.

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