Well, the City of Richmond is proposing to close three (3) elementary schools, and the proposals are generating all kinds of wailing and gnashing of teeth. The three schools are Summer Hill, J.B. Fisher, and John B. Cary. The only one I am going to talk about is Cary, because it is really the only one with which I am familiar. And just to be clear, I have no dog in this fight, other than wanting all of the City elementary schools to be shining examples of excellence. My daughter went to William E. Fox Elementary from Pre-K through Grade 5, and we had an AMAZING experience. I can't say enough good things about that school. In fact, Fox was one of the main reasons we moved to the Fan when we bought our first house in 1999.
John B. Cary ("JBC" or "Cary") serves the Byrd Park, Carillon, Carytown, and Museum District neighborhoods. Apparently it is WAY under capacity, with only 210 students. The more concerning statistic is that only 39% of the kids in the JBC zone actually attend JBC. That means a lot of parents are either sending their children to out-of-zone schools with capacity - perhaps Mary Munford? - or sending their children to private school.
Michael Paul Williams wrote a column about Cary and its glory days as a magnet school. I'm dating myself, but I remember how disappointed I was that I didn't get into Cary and my best friend, Kara, did. My neighborhood school was Ginter Park, and that's where I went.
Cary is fairly close to both William Fox and Mary Munford. I don't know much about Munford's enrollment levels, but it was my understanding that William Fox was at physical capacity. So I'm not sure how Fox could absorb the JBC students. Also, if given the option to attend William Fox, which consistently wins awards for excellence, you have to presume that more than the 39% of eligible neighborhood kids would sign up. How would that be managed?
[NOTE: According to the draft Study, Fox isn't anywhere near capacity. That's odd. I remember it being a big deal when my daughter was there, so much so that out-of-zone kids from the Museum District, who had regularly attended Fox rather than Cary, were no longer accepted unless they had an older sibling already at Fox. It caused all kinds of hoo-ha. I also thought there was some prohibition on Fox having trailers to house overflow students, maybe some sort of deal with the Fan District Association? In any event, I really hope this doesn't mean that Richmond Public Schools doesn't consider Fox at capacity because they are advocating a substantially higher class size than what Fox's normal, uber-successful operations look like. Does anyone know the answer to that? Or is it just that attendance has dropped off significantly in the three (3) years since my daughter graduated?]
From a purely real estate perspective, Cary occupies a prime piece of real estate between Sheppard and the Downtown Expressway, adjacent to the City tennis courts. Not only could the City save money from closing an unnecessary physical plant, but that property would be perfect for private redevelopment. Could the City sell it? For that matter, why don't they sell Maymont Elementary too?
I agree with the commenters that object to fewer, bigger schools. From a facilities standpoint, I am sure that makes more sense for the Richmond Public Schools system. Fewer facilities = fewer costs. But I do not think mega-schools are a good pedagogical approach. Neighborhood schools should be the objective. Oh, and P.S., by the way? Those plans to put Grades K-2 at one school and Grades 3-5 at another, splitting current Fox kids by grade between Fox and Carver, that's TERRIBLE idea. Sucky-McSuckster. Awful. Kill it. Immediately.
So...what happens when next to no one in the neighborhood is attending the neighborhood school? I guess we will find out. I predict they will split the Cary kids between Fox and Munford, although I have no idea how that will work from a pure physical capacity standpoint. Stay tuned....