By Jaclyn McNeal
Entirely East Lansing staff writer
A proposal to reconfigure schools with potential building closings is raising concern with some East Lansing residents.
A special school board meeting held on Monday to discuss the proposed changes met swift opposition from community members as they rallied around their neighborhood schools.
“I’m here specifically to speak to keeping Glencairn Elementary as Glencairn Elementary,” said Ben Eysselinck, a resident of the Glencairn neighborhood, during the public comment section of the meeting.
Eysselinck continued to comment on the possibility of reconfiguring a current elementary building into administrational offices.
“I understand that this building is up for sale or lease,” Eysselinck said of the current administrational offices. “And really, well Glencairn would love to have your offices as our neighbors, we would much prefer to keep the children there.”
Board President Rima Addiego said school officials expected residents to be concerned about the proposal, but encouraged the community to remain open-minded as no decisions are set to be made until the fall of 2011.
Addiego also said that it’s understandable that residents feel a strong sense of identification within their neighborhoods, but also that the idea of neighborhood schools may be more of an ideal rather than reality.
“People are clinging to a way of life that doesn’t exist anymore,” she said. “I think people like to have schools in their neighborhood. Neighborhood schools are meaningful to people, but I don’t think we can afford that structure anymore. You see it all over the county and all over the state that it isn’t feasible.”
Sean Gallagher, a Hawknest neighborhood resident and active participant on the K-8 Facilities Community Committee, thinks that a strong identity is found within the neighborhoods of East Lansing, but that a community mindset needs to be used when making major decisions such as reconfiguration.
“I think it’s great that people are invested in their schools and support their neighborhoods,” he said. “On the other hand, it does get emotional and personal and that can be an obstacle.”
He continued by saying that people need to try to see what is best for the community, but to continue to express their views on what’s best for their own neighborhood.
Jennifer Rosa, a resident of the Marble community and a mother of three children in the school district, was affected during a similar reconfiguration of the school district in 2003 where she says similar concerns were expressed.
“It was one community against another,” she said. “You have your community rallying against their particular school instead of looking at what’s best for the kids as a whole. It’s sad to me that that’s how I felt the tones going again.”
In the end, Rosa believes residents need to rally around the good of the whole and that the focus needs to be on the children.
Avondale Square neighborhood resident, George Siegle, argued against the reconfiguration saying he bought his current house because of its proximity to Marble Elementary School.
“That was absolutely key to us,” Siegle said. “We can look out our window and see our children off to school.”
Siegle added that on his street alone there will be six children entering the school system within the next two years.
Rosa and Gallagher both argued that while people like the idea of their children being able to walk to school, many don’t actually do it.
“I think there’s potentially some, ‘We love the way it used to be,’ nostalgia and probably some truth,” Gallagher said. “50 years ago people didn’t have two cars in every family and the city was smaller. We wrestle with this idea that we love our neighborhood schools, but what does that mean? We love our walkable schools, but do your children walk to school? Many times the answer is, ‘No, we just drop them off.’”
Addiego added that the school board feels a strong sense of loyalty to each of the buildings and neighborhoods.
“We are looking at several options along side our reconfiguration,” she said. “We won’t be abandoning any of our buildings.”