While the voter turnout for last September's Davenport school-board election was dismally low, the highest vote-getter in nearly every precinct, including east Davenport's three precincts, was Grant parent Alan Guard. Guard's consistent message was threefold: education first, accountability, and a more open process.

Two months later, Guard and the Davenport Community School District Board (DCSDB) are facing several significant challenges, including boundary changes (which affect what schools children attend based upon where they reside, the diversity of each school, parents' ability to open-enroll their kids, and a host of other issues); how to spend the remaining $39 million in local sales tax option funds (of the expected $119 million, $80 million is already obligated); and how to manage the budget under revenue constraints.

Beyond this regular business, Guard has also asked the board for an impact study on the closings of Grant and Johnson elementary schools to be completed no later than April 2003. This is an important piece of new business because it will force the school-district administration to examine such far-reaching decisions as school closings in the light of day. The closings were supposed to save the school district money primarily because of the reduction in teachers, but this savings were virtually wiped out when the district hired extra teachers this past fall. An impact study will allow the DCSDB to see the results of its decision, good or bad, in scientific terms. Hopefully, such data will act as a guide for the future, or prevent future mistakes.

Guard asked for the impact study to be conducted "before any disposition of the buildings be considered," he said, because it "would be prudent for the board to evaluate the efficacy of the closings and determine the actual cost savings and educational-service enhancements or reductions." The district claimed it would realize a $2.2 million savings from closing the schools, but the financials suggest this is not the case.

Guard also included other impacts in his request, including but not limited to: standardized test scores; classroom disruptions, suspensions, and expulsions; student-safety issues; traffic and transportation issues; compliance with classroom-size guidelines at all eight accepting schools; and the lost enrollment from January through December 2002 from Johnson, Grant, Wilson, Adams, and Garfield schools.

The district claimed enrollment was up for the fall 2002 school season by some 100 students. But that increase is due to a higher number of secondary students registering. Elementary student enrollment significantly decreased from approximately 7,400 students to 7,200, a net loss of 200 students. Much of this attrition is a direct result of the closings of Grant and Johnson elementary.

Board members who supported the closings might resist the impact study. Those members who voted in favor of the closings appeared to ignore the information brought forward by the Grant and Johnson parents and various task-force members, especially the studies that irrefutably show the wisdom of small schools over larger ones. Study after study shows the efficacy of smaller schools and smaller class sizes in terms of actual student-grade performance, conduct, and overall positive educational experience for students, parents, teachers, and administrators. To learn more about such studies, visit (http://www.ed.gov/databases/ERIC_Digests/ed376996.html); (http://www.groton.k12.ct.us/newsarchive99/NEWS00o.HTM); (http://www.weac.org/GREATSCHOOLS/Issuepapers/schoolsize.htm); and particularly Smaller, Safer, Saner Successful Schools, available at (http://www.edfacilities.org/pubs/saneschools.pdf). This study showed that there is a strong relationship between higher academic achievement and lower class size.

The question remains: Why would the DCSDB ignore these facts and close schools as a means to save money, especially if the savings are not actualized? Guard is curious, too: "We are down $1 million because of the loss of 200 students, alone. So have we really saved the other $1.2 million the district claimed we would by closing Grant and Johnson?

"Parents at Garfield are livid over the traffic conditions that have been created because of the additional students they have absorbed because of the two closings," he added. "Wilson is extremely bad, too. Wilson actually added another drive-through lane in anticipation of the increased traffic, but it has not sufficed.

"The most important impact of the closings to note is the resulting class sizes. When the administration presented their allocation of classes and the class-size guidelines for this year to the task force, they showed only a couple of classes would be outside the class-size guidelines. They gave themselves a fudge factor of two. In other words, if a class size is supposed to be 24, then it could go to 26. But they claimed even this would not occur. Only about six classed in the Walcott/Buffalo area would exceed the guidelines. Today, we have 70 classes out-of-compliance with the guidelines established by the district.

"The focus is about money, not education. Garfield has experienced three broken arms on the playground this year, versus no such injuries last year. The playground is crowded now that so many kids have transferred in. It is a safety issue. So what is more important? Safety or money?"

According to Guard, the DCSDB is on the same page about its goals for education and safety. But he differs with board members on how to achieve those goals. Guard has been accused of wallowing in the past and not letting go of the closings. He disagrees. His position is that if the closings created more problems than it solved, then the closings need to be re-evaluated.

"If small schools help us to achieve our goals, then why aren't we using it as a tool?" he said. "If a decision is a poor one, then reverse it. It isn't in stone, and we can correct our mistakes. But if we refuse to look at the mistakes, then no resolution can or will occur." Guard believes that the impact study will reveal whether the decision to close the schools was a good, bad, or even tolerable one, and then rectification can occur.

"We cannot make decisions and then not monitor the effects of those decisions, and if the effects are negative just keep accepting it as such," he said. "We have the power to change it. It is not embarrassing or anything to be ashamed of. We tried something, and it didn't work. The administration's projection for this year was 326 elementary teachers. Right now we have 332 teachers. If we had kept Johnson and Grant open, we would only need 329, and we would have far fewer classes outside the class-size guidelines. Last year we had 354 teachers, so we have fewer teachers but larger class sizes. What would the picture be if we re-opened Grant and Johnson?"

There is a great deal of research and data supporting Guard's position. If the public ignores the real-estate development agenda in this community, then it becomes a mystery why there is even controversy on the matter of small schools versus larger ones, or why the district so adamantly opposes the smaller neighborhood schools. But according to its long-range facility plan, nearly all the smaller inner city schools will be closing in the next decade and replaced with a mega-school north of town.

"No researcher can be found in the country that supports big schools," Guard said. "The value of small school size has been confirmed with a clarity and level of confidence rare in the annals of education research."

Guard admits that communication between the district and the public needs a lot of improvement. "We have a local advisory committee of citizens working on the boundary changes and local sales-tax-option-fund issues, but nobody knows what is going on, including many of the teachers. There is a gap in communication. Most of the board members don't attend the meetings, and perhaps we should. It is critical at this juncture to become more responsive to the students, parents, the teachers, and the general public. We have to restore public trust and confidence, especially in light of the challenges we face as a district. We need to employ a long-term strategy that creates the desire to enroll in this school district, not out."

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