Parents upset about plan to move children from Delmont Elementary

Thursday, April 11, 2013 - 5:02am

Parents at Delmont Elementary are mad at the East Baton Rouge School District for taking their children out of a school they like.

Delmont will change next year to a Pre-K and Kindergarten center. Delmont's current Pre-K students will remain there for Kindergarten, but roughly 400 students will be forced to change schools.

Deputy Superintendent Michael Haggan said closing Delmont was a measure of last resort.

"That's not an option that we would like to have," he told parents Wednesday night. "We don't want to close it."

Craig Freeman, a board member for the district, described the move as preemptive. He said Delmont was likely to get another failing performance score from the state, leaving it at risk for takeover from the Recovery School District when the numbers are released in October. He says the district could not afford the chance Delmont would meet the same fate as Prescott Middle School, which currently houses a handful of RSD administrators, but no students.

The principals of Howell Park Elementary and Winbourne Elementary also attended the meeting to talk about how good those schools will be for the children.

"We are a family," said Brenda Wilkinson, Winbourne's principal. "We take all of our boys and girls and we look upon them as being ours. Because I tell my faculty and staff each and every day, what you want for your own personal child, you should want for these boys and girls. And this is what we do each and every day at Winbourne."

Noel Hammatt, a former school board member, thinks parents are being forced into a bad situation by a poor decision-making process.

"Both of the schools that they are being sent to are failing schools, according to the state standards," he stated.

All three schools received F grades in each of the last six years, but the difference is shown in long-term trends.

Howell Park's score changed from 57.3 to 67.7 between 2007-12, an improvement of 18 percent. Winbourne's score improved from 57.8 to 73.4, a difference of 27 percent, and just shy of the 75 percent threshold for a D score.

Delmont's score is the exact same in 2012 as it was in 2007, 61.7.

Parents and educators alike believe Delmont's performance score does not accurately reflect the gains made there in recent years.

"I guarantee you this," Haggan told the crowd, "everyone that gives the school a grade has never walked a foot into these doors."

"I tell my boys and girls today: granted, the state and whomever, the governor, whomever, may say we are an F school," said Wilkinson. "But you know what I tell 'em? That F stands for Fantastic! Because that's just what we are at Winbourne Elementary."

The enthusiasm didn't reassure many parents.

"I really, really, really love the teachers here," Latonya Cummings said.

She has multiple reasons to be disappointed. She moved from New Orleans to Baton Rouge last year, and enrolled two children at Delmont. They both earn good grades and formed strong bonds with their teachers, but the district cannot guarantee that teachers will be able to follow their students to the new schools.

Many parents will not be able to follow their children, either, because they do not own a car. Delmont is roughly three miles away from both Howell Park and Winbourne.

"It's sad," Cummings said. "I love this school! It's convenient, they friendly. I could come here at any time and ask any question and get help with anything. And just for them to close it down like that, it's just, it's heartbreaking.

"I really want to cry. I thought that my kids were gonna be here 'til Delmont said, 'you know what, is this your last year, you gotta go. You gotta go.' Delmont was gonna have to kick them out; now they're getting kicked out early."

Next fall, Cummings and the other parents will have something in common with the state Department of Education. None of them will set foot in Delmont Elementary.  

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