Imes' traditions defended
The Arizona Republic
Mar. 25, 2005
Parents protest proposed changes

Monica Mendoza
Their hands shook, and some stumbled to find the right words. But the parents, teachers and children who spoke to the Glendale Elementary School District governing board Tuesday night described Isaac E. Imes Elementary School, their school, as their community.

Theirs is a school that has gone from underperforming status to performing in the past two years. Theirs is a school where teachers stay late to work with children and where Spanish-speaking parents feel welcome. They don't want anything to change.

"Imes is our neighborhood, we are proud of Imes," said Esther Anaya-Garcia, parent and former Imes student. "Imes fits our demographics and our Spanish-speaking community."

In a standing-room-only board room, parents listened to a proposal that would turn Imes into a traditional school, one that follows a back-to-basics philosophy, where children wear uniforms and parent participation is mandatory.

The proposal is part of a districtwide plan that calls for changing school boundaries, adding full-day kindergarten at every campus, decreasing busing services and maximizing school buildings. Parents held signs and presented a petition of signatures against the proposed changes at Imes. More than 100 parents, teachers and children were there.

All the proposed changes were unveiled this week during a School Board study session, where the board did not make any decisions and called for more study sessions to explore all of the options.

"I am aware of the symbol this school holds," board member Barbara English said. "I view this school as the historic part of town."

A new K-8 school, scheduled to open in August at Orangewood and 79th avenues, triggered the proposed changes. New attendance areas must be set for the new school. Glendale schools are also making room for full-day kindergarten classes at every school. Glendale voters recently approved a budget override to pay for that program.

But while one area of the district is growing with new homes, other parts of the district are not. Enrollment, which was on a steady incline for years, is now stagnant at 13,672 students this school year. And that has created a hardship on the budget, Superintendent Perry Hill said. This year the School Board is expected to make $900,000 in cuts to the 2005-06 budget to cover the employee raises.

Hill said the district must make program changes to attract parents to Glendale schools. A demographic study shows that as many as 2,700 children who live within Glendale's boundaries attend school elsewhere, and that means Glendale is losing about $8 million a year.

"I'm facing two choices: get growth up, get kids to come back, or next year, there will be no salary increase," Hill said.

Imes is being considered for the traditional program because it has the lowest enrollment. Already about half the 536 children are bused to the central Glendale campus, 6625 N. 56th Ave. Hill said a traditional school could attract new parents to the district.

"Traditional schools have a draw that is outside of the district," Hill said. "And, they are extremely successful in academics."

If Imes was converted to a traditional school, teachers would need to reapply for positions, there would be no busing and there is no guarantee that the dual language program, one of two in the district, would stay intact.

In recent years, board members have expressed interest in adding a traditional school to the district's mix. Traditional schools around the Valley, including those in Alhambra and Washington school districts, are popular among parents and students there earn top test scores. Alhambra Traditional School seventh-graders, for example, scored in the 91st percentile in Stanford 9 Achievement tests last year, and some students travel from Dysart and Gilbert districts to attend, Glendale school officials said.

Traditional schools follow a back-to-basics philosophy with an emphasis on reading, writing, math, discipline and homework. Teachers follow a lecture-style approach and there is less cooperative learning and hands-on activities. In a survey of traditional schools around the Valley, Glendale officials found they use the phonics-based Spalding Method for reading and spelling.

"The No. 1 thing is that parents are in on the planning and decision-making process for a traditional school," said Debbie Bailey, Glendale's director of academic programs.

But Imes parents said the proposal, based on numbers and budgets, fails to see the traditions already in place at the second-oldest school in the district.

At Imes, children learn in a dual language program, where they receive 50 percent of their instruction in English and 50 percent in Spanish. Former Imes student Yadira Siordia, 16, an honor roll student at Apollo High School, said she is fluent in both English and Spanish and is now studying French.

One parent said her son, identified as gifted, would not do well in a traditional, lecture-style classroom. And others worried about how children in special education classes would deal with a move to a new school.

Under the proposal, next year's sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders scheduled for Imes would go to Landmark Middle School, which worries parent Christee Amarillas. The bilingual mother prefers her children stay at a K-8 school, and learning in both English and Spanish.

"I do not want a traditional school," Amarillas said. "We are a big family at Imes."

To the Imes parents, the proposal feels like a blow to the community. They have history together, they said. Many teachers were once Imes students. And generations of families have attended the school. They feel they are being pushed aside to bring in new parents.

"This is breaking up the community," parent Rebecca Ontiveros said. "To do that would bring chaos."