Cyndi Mohler, vice chairwoman of the Temple Terrace School Support Committee, came to a Town Hall meeting at Lightfoot Recreation Center Tuesday concered about a potential International Baccalaureate (IB) program at Riverhills Elementary School.
She, Temple Terrace City Council members, and nearly 200 parents who attended the meeting were mainly worried about the drawing of new boundaries and which schools current Riverhills students would attend if they don’t choose to enroll in a lottery to go to the new IB Riverhills.
“I want those kids to be in the neighborhood,” Mohler said. “We are disenfranchising them by sending those students across town. We have to go to the root of the problem to help them.”
For years, Riverhills Elementary has been seen as a dark spot on an otherwise fairly clean report card in the Temple Terrace area. In 2011, it received an “F” from the Florida Department of Education. This year, it received a “D.”
At the beginning of the 2012-13 school year, the school introduced a new teaching model and became Riverhills Elementary Gifted Academy for Learning. A Schoolwide Enrichment Model (SEM) was implemented, offering a unique approach to learning that increases student performance and deepens their enjoyment of learning, said Principal Todd Connolly.
“I’m here to better understand why the new gifted program just put into place at Riverhills isn’t being given time to succeed,” said Cindy Keding, a parent at Lewis Elementary School, before the meeting.
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Hillsborough County School Board Chairwoman April Griffin and members Doretha W. Edgecomb, Stacy R. White and Cindy Stuart answered questions before the meeting convened. Then, Superintendent Mary Ellen Elia opened the meeting.
“We’re here to respond to concerns from the Temple Terrace School Support Committee who has asked us to put into place a program (at Riverhills) to increase attendance,” Elia said. “We responded by offering the most academically rigorous program we have: IB.”
The Hillsborough school district has two elementary IB programs in the county at Lincoln and McFarland Park elementary school, and requests for attendance at both of those schools has increased, Elia said.
“As a result, we’ve determined that in that geographic area we need another IB elementary school to meet the growing demand,” she said.
She said the IB program would help improve area schools because it raises the bar on educational expectations. IB takes a global perspective on education. The curriculum is designed to challenge students with a more rigorous, project-based approach to education that encourages problem-solving and independent thinking.
Elia said the program would draw students from throughout the school district; however, Temple Terrace students who live within certain boundaries would be given a priority. Current Riverhills students who do not choose to be placed in a lottery for IB Riverhills would be divided among Lewis, Temple Terrace and Kimbell elementary schools.
Some council members and parents, however, questioned the impact the change could have on other Temple Terrace schools.
“It’s an important issue for our community,” said Mayor Frank Chillura, according to a city press release. Chillura raised concerns about the displacement of students not admitted to the program, the student-population balance among schools, and the drawing of boundaries.
“We want to make sure Temple Terrace schools reflect Temple Terrace neighborhoods,” he said.
Before the meeting, Jennifer Terry, PTA president at Lewis Elementary, shared similar sentiments.
“I’d like to ensure we have support in place at Lewis to meet the needs of these students while maintaining the high standards we’ve worked so hard to put into place,” she said.
Lorraine Duffy Suarez, the district’s general manager of Growth Management. & Planning, addressed concerns about overcrowding at Lewis.
“So, now we’ve got at Lewis a capacity for 943 students,” she said. “Currently there are 787 students enrolled at an 83 percent capacity. Based on our experience with other similar conversions, we are projecting that 71 students may come to Lewis, increasing capacity to 91 percent the next school year.”
City Councilman Grant Rimbey said the increase seemed disproportionate when compared to the student numbers at Kimbell.
“Kimbell Elementary has a current capacity of 66.7 percent with a projected increase to 71 percent,” he said. “Can we send more former Riverhills students that live in Tampa to Kimbell?”
Added Rimbey: “I don’t see many disadvantages for Lewis or Temple Terrace Elementary, and I see this being potentially a great thing for Temple Terrace as a whole. Temple Terrace as a city needs to learn to compete; we have competition now in New Tampa and Brandon for residents.”
Three year Temple Terrace resident Ann Leavine agreed.
“I think the school would be great,” she said. “The community needs to be open to change. We’ve been very impressed with the volunteerism, but I think it’s time to embrace change and expand the vision of the city.”
The council asked school officials to look more closely at how boundaries are drawn to ensure Temple Terrace students get the best shot at attending the new program, and to study the balance of students sent to other schools.
Elia said school officials will study the matter and decide whether to make a recommendation to the School Board.