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Family School disbands.

Byline: RANDI BJORNSTAD The Register-Guard

CRESWELL - The end of the school year could be more poignant than usual for many students at Creslane Elementary School because it may also be the end of the Family School program.

The program has operated in the Creslane building for the past six years. Creslane Principal Jacque Robertson said a combination of budget cuts and growing disharmony among student, parent and teacher groups in the school-within-a-school led her to decide to end the separation between the 125 students in the Family School and Creslane's remaining 400 students.

But many parents of Family School students don't like Robertson's decision or the fact that it happened without what they consider adequate consideration of student and parent opinion.

They're going to hold a public meeting Tuesday night to discuss the closure and decide what they might do to get it reversed.

Since the program began - with Robertson as one of its founding teachers before she became an administrator - Family School has occupied one entire wing at Creslane School. Students stay with the same teacher for the first three years of their elementary education, in a process called "looping." The children then go on to a blended fourth-and-fifth grade classroom while their previous teachers start over with another group of first-graders.

In the larger Creslane student body, students follow the traditional pattern of changing teachers each year.

Both the looping and school-within-a-school concepts stem from a conviction that children will learn more and become better adjusted socially if they have a longer-term relationship with their teachers and fewer children in the overall school population.

"I've taught in the Family School for six years, and I will really miss the small school atmosphere we've been able to create here," teacher Sherry McKee said. "When you walk down this hall, every teacher knows every child by name. We know all the parents, and they all know each other's children. We have some activities that mix all the students, so there's a real sense of community."

Educational research shows that children benefit both academically and behaviorally from the consistency of working with the same teacher and growing up with the same children and knowing their families, McKee said.

While that's all well and good, and while his own daughter had a wonderful experience at the Family School, Don Gwyther said he understands the discord that played into Robertson's decision.

"It was a really excellent experience for the children, and it taught them to be very confident and empowered in their thinking because of all the support they received from their teachers," Gwyther said.

"But the downside is that the groups they formed in Family School have persisted as cliques in middle school, and that has created some problems in getting them to reach out and include other people."

He also had a sense that non-Family School teachers sometimes felt envious of the alternative school's program, Gwyther said. "I felt that the whole thing was beginning to unravel. It probably did need either to be fixed or disbanded."

Robertson contends that even if she could fix the contentious feelings that have developed among the staff, the budget problems that have cropped up won't go away and leave her little choice but to close the Family School program.

"We have to cut our budget by $100,000 for next year, and that means a teaching position has to go," Robertson said. "We have one person retiring, and because of seniority requirements, another teacher wants to move into that slot. The way it works out, the only place I can cut a teacher is in the Family School, and that leaves a gaping hole that's unfixable."

Even without the Family School wing, teachers who want to continue "looping" will be able to stay with their students for several years, she said. "We're hoping to continue some of the best aspects of the Family School in the larger Creslane program. But I know this feels like a death to some of these people who have been so attached to this program."

The fact that a brand new elementary school facility attached to Creslane will be completed by September should make the transition easier for everyone, Robertson said.

"We're going to completely renumber and reassign classrooms, so it will feel like a new beginning for everyone," she said. "This has been a terribly difficult decision - for the first time in my 21-year career with this district, this spring I'm counting the days to the end of the school year."

Fifth-grader Breanne Giles says she's happy the Family School lasted through her entire elementary school career.

"I like how we work together to get things done," the 10-year-old said. "The difference is, the other (Creslane) school just knows its own classroom, and that's all. In this school, everybody knows all the classes."

Her fellow students, including many fourth-graders who share her classroom, don't want the Family School to go away, Giles said. "I had a couple of people in my class cry about it," she said.

That's an emotion - in addition to anger and frustration - that many Family School parents share with their children. "I would love to see this decision reversed," said Cindy Harrold, whose daughter went through the program and whose son now attends it. "It offers so much consistency - all the teachers have the same rules, they all know all the children, and the families get to know each other so much better than in the larger school, which is really huge as elementary schools go."

Unhappy parents already have talked to Robertson and written a letter to District Superintendent Rick Stuber, Harrold said.

"The superintendent said it was a `building decision' for Jacque (Robertson) to make," she said. "Now we're headed for the School Board - we intend to follow the process that's been set out for complaints, and that's the next step. We want the whole administration to know they shouldn't make decisions for our kids' education without consulting us."

The excuse that the school-within-a-school approach causes dissension among the two groups of teachers doesn't impress her or many other parents, Harrold said.

"If it doesn't work for the staff, the administration should deal with that and solve that problem. If it works for the kids - and it certainly has for most kids - isn't that what it's all about?"


When: 7 p.m. Tuesday

Where: Creswell Grange, corner of Third and Oregon streets

What: Parent meeting to brainstorm strategies for keeping the Family School open

For more information: Call Cindy Harrold at 895-3613 or Elise Settelmeyer at 895-2049


NICOLE DeVITO / The Register-Guard Creslane Elementary Family School third-grader Nick Heater, 9, works on punctuation with teacher Sherry McKee.
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Title Annotation:Creslane: The elementary school-within-a-school program is cut, but Creswell parents protest.; Schools
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:May 25, 2002
Previous Article:LETTERS LOG.
Next Article:Budget ax falls mostly on public employees.

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