A sea of teal-colored dragons — Downtown Elementary Dragons, that is — filled the Bakersfield City School District board room Tuesday night to let trustees know any potential changes to their school would be detrimental to student success.
While there were no agenda items on the previously discussed changes to Downtown Elementary, parents utilized public comment to address the issue.
At the Sept. 24 school board meeting, trustees discussed doing away with Downtown's lottery system for enrollment and instead making it a boundary school, like all other BCSD schools. There was also discussion of eliminating the school's seventh- and eighth-grade classes.
Downtown Elementary was founded in 1997 and designed to accommodate children whose parents are employed in or around the downtown area in hopes of increasing parent engagement. Parents must apply for their child to attend the school, and because it receives more applications than it has space for, selection is done by lottery.
Three individuals spoke about Downtown Elementary on Tuesday, but more than 30 individuals were there in support, many having to utilize an overflow room and the foyer to listen to comments.
Conversations about equity have been ongoing throughout the district, and some board members believe changes to Downtown Elementary might be a way to make it more accessible to others.
The school traditionally has had strong parent involvement, which has led to students' academic success and strong test scores compared to the rest of the district. But Henry Mendez, a parent of two Downtown students, said during public comment that inequity is not the reason for that.
His daughter attended Harding Elementary School for transitional kindergarten before Downtown Elementary and said, "I don't see any opportunities academically at Downtown that my kid didn't get at Harding."
"What is taking place at Downtown is a phenomenon that has far exceeded the district's expectations. Our test scores in Downtown are ranked some of the highest in the state," Mendez said. "The reason for these results is due to one of the district's goals: parent involvement."
A thunderous applause filled the room after he finished talked.
Cutting seventh and eighth grade would infringe on student success, said Suzanne Leon, another parent. She noted studies conducted across the nation show that a kindergarten-through-eighth grade school model leads to higher academic achievement and preparedness for high school.
"The kindergarten-through-eighth model provides continuity of instruction, a secure place for personal development and consistent parent and community involvement," Leon said. "This school was founded to serve Bakersfield in a very unique way, and it has become a living model of what is possible for other schools."
She, too, was met with applause from parents and even received a standing ovation.
Local attorney Lila Ray requested that BCSD Board President Lillian Tafoya recuse herself from any decisions regarding Downtown Elementary due to a conflict of interest. Her daughter is the principal at Franklin Elementary School, and if the board were to transition Downtown into a boundary-based school, the change would affect the eastern portion of Franklin Elementary's boundary, Ray explained.
Tafoya did not address Ray's request or a possible conflict of interest.
If discussions continue on changes to Downtown Elementary, parents are hoping to be more involved in the process, and Superintendent Doc Ervin is on board. He met with several parents Monday night to hear their concerns and said he will continue to meet with school representatives to find a solution.
"We have to find a solution that's reasonable to all parents, but most importantly, we have to find a solution that's in the best interest of kids," Ervin said. "I think that because we pride ourself on collaboration ... we have to sit down and have a conversation."