On Saturday afternoon at John C. Fremont Middle School concerned parents sit in room 706 around tables that are just above knee height. A tinny “Viva Las Vegas” plays over the classroom speakers as attendees of the school’s Family Writing Project, a program aimed to involve parents in their student’s education, sip Capri Suns and snack on Rice Crispy Treats. Today’s topic: What would you say to the board of trustees to save the school?
In March, the Fremont staff learned about the potential 2018 closure of the school as part of Clark County School District’s $4.1 billion capital improvement plan. CCSD determines what schools need to be repaired or rebuilt with a Facility Condition Index, on which Fremont scored very high. “That campus is beyond economic repair. It’s an equity issue,” says chief student achievement officer Mike Barton.
But CCSD wants to rebuild the school as an elementary, rather than a middle school. The district’s elementary schools are 28 percent over capacity, while middle schools are currently around 10.4 percent under capacity, according director of demographics and zoning Rick Baldwin. He says the reason for the disparity is that middle schools naturally have a smaller population due to fewer grade levels and more students attending charter schools. The district is proposing to close and rebuild Fremont as an elementary to relieve overcrowding at five surrounding elementary schools, two of which also need to be rebuilt.
But to teachers Shawn Kelly (who started the Family Writing Project) and Mike Taack saving the school goes beyond numbers. Since learning about the potential closure, they’ve created a Facebook page, called meetings with school officials and attended board meetings to draw attention to the issue. Kelly and Taack are using the weekend writing program as another way to spread awareness and encourage community involvement.
One mother attending the writing program, Laura Lopez, has two children who would be affected by the possible 2018 closure. Lopez says she attended previous school board meetings but, because nobody is there to translate, she has difficulty communicating her concerns. (Fremont’s population is 76 percent Latino, many are Spanish-speaking). She says she is worried about her kids having to travel to school by themselves, picking them up late and being able to attend parent-teacher conferences because of the distance. “I don’t need any more elementary schools,” she says.
One mother, Chasta Poblete, says she likes the smaller class sizes, which average in the low 30s. “I have no complaints. I want to keep them in a smaller school,” Poblete says. “My kids are straight A students.” She doesn’t want that to change.
The overall mood in room 706 is frustration and concern. “I’m so angry, that’s why I carry my coffee around all day. I’m so angry and tired,” Taack says at one point.
But weeks after the Family Writing Project, Taack is feeling more hopeful.
At the time of the announcement of school closure proposal, there was little outreach for community involvement. Now, some communication has opened up between CCSD and the Fremont neighborhood. Nevadans for the Common Good, the faith-based organization that trains people on how to get involved with grassroots issues, has taken interest in Fremont Middle as well. School officials and NFCG met with Barton, Baldwin and assistant superintendent of facilities Blake Cumbers, who drafted the plan, on December 8 to discuss concerns and what to do moving forward.
Barton says one piece of misinformation that has been circling and was presented in earlier meetings is that the students would be bussed to J.D. Smith, four miles in North Las Vegas but, in reality, he says they would be bussed to Roy Martin, K.O. Knudson or Orr middle schools.
The district tries to be good stewards of taxpayer money and take advantage of the extra space that currently exists, but the assets they have available aren’t necessarily in the locations they’re needed.
Taack says one interesting thing they learned at the December 8 meeting is that zoning makes decisions for the entire CCSD student population as an aggregate, not by the specific needs in each neighborhood.
“It’s a double-edged sword,” Bladwin says. The district tries to be good stewards of taxpayer money and take advantage of the extra space that currently exists, but the assets they have available aren’t necessarily in the locations they’re needed, he says. Baldwin adds that rebuilding the school as an elementary as a way to avoid wasting money on temporary portables while rebuilding two other nearby elementaries.
“The building has to come down. Nobody is arguing that,” Taack says. As alternatives to closure, there are proposals to turn the school into a K-8 academy or possibly a magnet program to bump up attendance. NFCG suggested building a new middle school at the old Bishop Gorman site.
Barton says that the next step is to determine if the K-8 or magnet options are feasible. He says he appreciates having these meetings and the ongoing discussion.
“Where I do have to give [the school district] credit is at least now they are sitting down and talking about it, “ Taack says.