It was a situation that stymied former Temple Terrace Mayor Joe Affronti.
Once a shining jewel of the community, Riverhills Elementary School, located in the heart of historic Temple Terrace near the Hillsborough River, had fallen upon disfavor.
Parents were using choice school options to send their children to other area schools. The school's population declined and, subsequently, parent involvement fell off. In 2011, Riverhills received an “F” grade from the Florida Department of Education.
"I don't know what the problem is," said Affronti. "It's a great school in a wonderful location, but, for some reason, they have a tough time getting parents to send their children there. Forty-three percent of all the students within the school's boundaries have been choosing to attend other schools."
Worried about the school's fate, Affronti teamed up with other concerned Temple Terrace residents and educators to form the Temple Terrace School Support Committee in 2011.
On Tuesday, Jan. 15, members of the committee, including Loretta Campo, former principal of Lewis Elementary School and chairwoman of the school support committee, looked on with relief as the culmination of their two years of work won high praise from the Hillsborough County School Board.
The school board unanimously agreed to the committee's proposal to adjust the attendance boundaries for Lewis, Temple Terrace and Kimbell elementary schools and convert Riverhills Elementary to an International Baccalaureate magnet school.
The boundary change does not affect students who are already assigned to Lewis, Temple Terrace and Kimbell elementary schools. It does, however, affect students at Riverhills Elementary, who will be reassigned to these schools unless they enroll in the Riverhills IB program.
Noting that the new plan provides all of the elementary schools with a more diversified ethnic population, school board member Doretha Edgecomb hailed the plan as a win for all of the community's children.
"Kudos for Temple Terrace for encouraging a spirit of inclusion," she said. "It's a golden opportunity to build bridges of understanding and tear down fears and assumptions. I wholeheartedly support the recommendation. This is a shining example of what's right in education."
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School board chairwoman and Temple Terrace resident April Griffin said she'd love to take the plan further and turn Greco Middle School into an IB magnet school where students would transition into the current acclaimed IB program at King High School.
"This will open doors for kids they never knew existed," said Griffin.
The plan, however, didn't come about without its share of resistance, noted school board member and Temple Terrace resident Cindy Stuart.
"This hasn't been an easy process," she said. "And I appreciate the support and dedication of the people in Temple Terrace."
Worried about how the new school boundaries would impact their children, parents packed a town hall meeting in December.
"Some used the phrase I was hoping they wouldn't use: 'those kids,'" said Griffin, who attended the meeting, explaining that some parents were concerned the boundary changes would increase the population of students on reduced-cost school lunch plans in their schools.
Lorraine Duffy Suarez, the district’s general manager of Growth Management & Planning, told the school board that the parents fears are unfounded.
"There will be increased enrollment in all of the schools," she said. However, the percentage of underprivileged children receiving reduced-cost lunches at each school won't rise appreciably, she said.
In fact, said Schools Superintendent MaryEllen Elia, the Riverhills IB program will have a positive impact on all of the schools in the area because it would set a new standard in education.
She added that, although the IB program would draw students from throughout the school district, those living within a certain distance from the school would have priority to attend.
"There aren't any 'those kids,'" said Griffin. "All of those kids are our kids and their success equals ours as a community."
Children's advocate and Temple Terrace resident Dr. Mel Jurado agreed. Jurado currently serves as director of the Florida Office of Early Learning in Tallahassee and said she's well aware of the benefits of IB programs, especially for early learners.
The curriculum of the IB programs is designed to challenge students with a more rigorous, project-based approach to education that encourages problem-solving and independent thinking.
"It's paramount that we raise the bar, starting with our earliest and most vulnerable students," she said.
For more information about the boundary change or how to enroll in the IB program at Riverhills, visit the school district's Growth Management and Planning website.
IB Program Subject of Town Hall Meeting