Anxious parents filled the gymnasium at Genevieve F. Didion K-8 School on Jan. 27. They wanted to find out what the future holds for their childrens’ school. The meeting left many with a sense of unease.
Kathy Windheim, whose children once attended Didion, organized the meeting because a rumor of school closure was going around her neighborhood.
City Councilmember Darrell Fong, Sacramento City Unified School District Board Member Darrel Woo and SCUSD Superintendent Jonathan Raymond were present to address parent concerns.
Committee to determine potential closure of schools
Woo said that the last SCUSD board meeting discussed possible school closure in the district. He announced the creation of a new district advisory committee, known as the 7-11 Committee, to determine which schools might close. Woo said the new team would be established by Feb. 2. The Didion School community was invited to send one person to join the committee. Woo said the commitment for that individual would be one year.
According to Woo and Raymond, the criteria for school closure would not be based on academic performance, but on the condition of school facilities, vehicle traffic patterns (busy streets) and on attendance numbers at each school.
Raymond said that recommendations from the committee would be “rolled out” to parents sometime in late summer or early fall.
Academic performance off the table
Parents asked know why academic performance was being left out of the decision-making process. Raymond’s response was that he did not want emotional issues to be a part of this process.
“Academic performance is a hotbed issue,” Raymond said. “We want clean, clear decisions to be made.”
Glenn Takeda, who has two children at Didion, said his main concern about the 7-11 Committee is not including academic performance in the study.
“The last 7-11 group could not come up with solutions,” Takeda said. “If academic performance is not included in this groups decision-making process, one of the best schools in the city could wind up closed.”
SCUSD funding a key concern
Woo said the future of all schools is dependent on whether a vote of the people is allowed this June.
“The budget right now has $20 million less than what was originally budgeted,” Woo said.
No plan to close – for now
Raymond said Didion would not close this year and that there are no plans in place at this time to close grades seven and eight – another rumor upsetting to parents.
Dan O’Donnell, parent of a child in grade five attending Didion, said he was uncertain about the future of Didion.
“I appreciate they came here to discuss the issues,” O’Donnell said. “Hopefully they will see how committed we are and how much we care about this school and keep it open.”
Raymond said the overcrowding at Didion is the first item on his agenda that he will address. At present, there are three full third grade classes that at the end of the year will have to merge into two fourth grade classes. Raymond asked for parental input for solutions to resolve this issue.
Raymond said needed money for the schools depends on the tax extension for schools that relies on voters passing a June ballot measure and he too voiced concern about the lack of money in the current budget.
Keeping Didion School open is very important to Councilmember Fong, as his children attended this school and he knows the parents are very engaged.
Fong said there are two kinds of junior high schools for children to choose from at SCUSD. One example is Sutter Middle School, which has a true seventh and eighth grade junior high school. The other example is Didion, which offers children from kindergarten to grade eight both continuity and security.
A school like Sutter, according to Fong, can have more organized sports and a larger variety of classes to offer students.
Better communication promised
Fong assured parents there would be better communication on what is happening in the school district. Raymond encouraged all parents to sign up for the school’s weekly newsletter.
Raymond said the 7-11 Committee would review all K-8 programs. He said that parents will be informed before any decisions are made.