• Title: Old Red Cedar: "Dr. Thompson wasn't hired to keep six elementary buildings humming."
  • Author: Konrad Hittner
  • Date: 12/18/2015
  • Additional Categories: Recent Essays, Konard Hittner

Old Red Cedar: "Dr. Thompson wasn't hired to keep six elementary buildings humming."

NOTE: Public Response has received permission to post the essay below, from Konrad Hittner, which was
recently published in a Nextdoor Neighborhoods thread. The above title is mine. I think Mr. Hittner has presented several accurate and worthy comments for thoughtful community members to consider. Jim Cuddeback

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This is just more of the Red Cedar Defense and Resuscitation League (Trustees Kuhnmeunch, Edsall, and Hoene as their leadership) at its apparently endless work. How many school-of-choice kids (and their accompanying state foundation grant money) will the East Lansing School Board need to peel out of the Lansing School District in order to keep all of its neighborhood leaders and old school building fans happy? Is the present 23% of the District's student population (reportedly approaching 30% at the East Lansing High School) and $5 million/year really not enough? How many more Lansing elementary schools have to close in order to re-open Red Cedar? Why is it fundamentally OK for East Lansing to continue plundering Lansing neighborhoods and their neighborhood schools for school-aged students?

When the District's property values and its associated bonding capacity eventually return some years from now (i.e.: not likely by a November, '16 election/bond vote), are we really confident that EL District taxpayers will be willing to pay the capital replacement costs of its elementary school buildings when 25-30% of attending families (its school-of-choice families) won't pay any of those costs? Not to mention the City's growing list of infrastructure and unfunded pension liability costs also queuing up for funding . . .

I'm also skeptical that the "STEAM" acronym means much of anything substantive at the K-5 grade levels, where the pedagogical focus seems properly on achieving basic competencies in reading, math, social studies, etc., without much focus on more speciallized subject matter. A "STEAM" focus may make more sense in the higher grades; pushing it down to the earlier elementary grades at Red Cedar seems like a dubious solution to the empty-building problem that troubles Flowerpot and Ivanhoe neighborhood residents.

I watched most of the public interview process that Superintendent Thompson went through before her appointment. The focus of candidate questioning, and the candidates' presentations, focused properly on what could be done to address the District's troubling achievement gaps between students of wealthy and poor families.

Apart from the basic tasks of "keeping the District's trains running on time", Robyne Thompson's primary task/goal at the time of her selection was, and must continue to be, narrowing the educational outcome gaps between rich and poor kids. If, indeed, a "STEAM" focus at the lower elementary grades is so useful in addressing the District's disparate achievement levels, why wouldn't/shouldn't Dr. Thompson implement it first at the school which has long had the District's highest concentration of low-income kids, Donley Elementary?

Dr. Thompson wasn't hired to keep six elementary buildings humming. And she wasn't hired to run a new elementary school reconstruction bond proposal past the voters--the long-missing/fictitious "better plan" that some present board members hornswoggled voters with four years ago. Dr. Thompson's success or failure as an East Lansing educational leader rests squarely on her ability to improve the educational outcomes for poor kids in the District, while at least maintaining and, perhaps, improving those of rich kids, too. The Red Cedar building has little or nothing to do with achieving those improved outcomes across the District. This Board of Education needs to focus like a laser on more critical tasks in support of Dr. Thompson's most important work.



Konrad Hittner
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