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Parents protest proposal to move grades to high school Print E-mail
Written by Randy Robbins, Pilot staff writer   
March 21, 2014 07:33 pm

GOLD BEACH — Dozens of concerned parents packed the Central Curry District School Board meeting this week to protest the superintendent’s proposal to move the seventh and eighth grades at Riley Creek Elementary School to the high school.

Gold Beach father Lee Carkhuff doesn’t want his 13-year-old daughter, a seventh grader, to be placed with much older students. He will pull her out of school before letting that happen.

GOLD BEACH — Dozens of concerned parents packed the Central Curry District School Board meeting this week to protest the superintendent’s proposal to move the seventh and eighth grades at Riley Creek Elementary School to the high school.

Gold Beach father Lee Carkhuff doesn’t want his 13-year-old daughter, a seventh grader, to be placed with much older students. He will pull her out of school before letting that happen.

“What do you think is going to happen?” Carkhuff asked the board during its Wednesday meeting.

“You put these impressionable young girls together with the senior boys, whom these girls already tend to idolize and... just what are you going to do then? Say ‘Oops. We’re sorry?’” Carkhuff said.

Carkhuff’s comments sparked an outburst of applause from other parents.

The Gold Beach High School Library was filled to capacity with parents, educators, and students who wanted to express their collective dismay at the idea of combining grades proposed by the district’s new superintendent, Dennis Johnson.

His suggestion is to transfer approximately 65 Riley Creek Elementary students in grades 7 and 8, along with three half-time teaching positions, to the high school in hopes of “shoring up holes in both schools programs, including fifth period at the high school,” Johnson told the Curry Coastal Pilot.

Some parents at the meeting echoed Johnson’s concerns about that period. They said their own high school children admitted to roaming the halls — or hanging out on the school lawns — during fifth period. 

Johnson blames the situation on the lack of qualified instructors at his disposal — a result, he said, “of diminishing student enrollment taking its toll on my ability to maintain district employees at previous levels.” 

Office staffing could also be reduced at Riley Creek to save money, he said, and that has parents and teachers upset as well.

School board members Tanner Sharp, Scott McNair, Greg Marstall, Marilyn Cohen and Wendy Carpenter were joined by Riley Creek Principal Tom Denning, Board Chairman Jerry Herbage and district Business Manager Kristal Carpenter as they all listened to Johnson outline what he called “a discussion of ideas.”

 “I have tried some of these ideas at districts where I worked prior to here,” Johnson said,  referring to East Coast schools near rural New York, where he worked before arriving in Gold Beach a few months ago.

Johnson readily admitted that “sometimes they work, sometimes they don’t, but in exploring the process, it often brings out a different angle or something we haven’t considered before.”

The superintendent appeared unflappable in the face of more than a dozen parents who took turns denouncing his idea. They presented a petition signed by 350 people demanding that nothing be changed.

Johnson calmly addressed the crowd, saying he had a duty to “look at the district as a whole and not its sum pieces. 

“I’m sure that Tom (Denning) looks at Riley Creek as job one because, as principal, that’s his priority. But I can tell you, I’m pretty sure that Tom agrees with me that we need to at least talk about ways of getting from here to there. Maybe we will do this (moving Riley Creek students), maybe we won’t, but we need, at the very least,  to have this conversation because that’s my job, as superintendent, to bring ideas to the board for them to consider, and that’s what I’m going to do.”

Carpenter confirmed that the district is suffering from a significant drop in student enrollment, which means less money from the state.

“In the year 2000, Riley Creek had 200 more students than we have now. That’s a loss of 1.4 million dollars in revenue. We (at Riley Creek) have lost, lost, lost. It’s pretty sobering.”

Still, many parents would were vehemently against moving seventh and eight grade levels to the high school.

“We elected you trusted leaders. You should be looking at the real problems — safety, bullying and drugs — instead of talking merging,” said parent Summer Madison.

“This action will result in parents pulling their kids out to home school or sending them down to Brookings to go to school,” she said.

Parent Christopher Paasch said, “I am concerned about merging of seventh and eighth graders into high school. Kids at this age are at their most impressionable and you want to place them with young adults. I can’t begin to imagine the pressure with that. Please step back from this. It will be detrimental to their futures.”

Former school board member Mary Stansell said, “Look, I was a 15-year school board member so I know what all of you are up against, but I would encourage you not to do this. I hear parents saying they are going to pull their kids out of here. Who’s going to want to move here? They’ll just head on down to Brookings.”

Parent Shawn Lyons said, “I understand budget cuts, but can we stop picking on Riley Creek for just a minute? Every year they take more and more away. Can we just stop hacking away at Riley Creek?”

Parent Gary Carter, who has seven children ages 14 through 23, said, “I know what it’s like to have kids at separate ends of the age spectrum living together, and you better believe the younger kids look up and want to imitate the older ones. Cussing, smoking, drugs and sex are already a problem at the high school. These younger kids aren’t ready for this move.”

Johnson reminded everyone that “nothing has been decided yet” and that he and the board “would take the community’s input into consideration” as they continue to evaluate the district’s situation.

Any final decisions, he said, won’t be announced until November of this year, or by February 2015.

“In the meantime, I will continue to look into other creative solutions” Johnson told the crowd.

 

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