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A full house waits for the Bakersfield City School District Board of Education meeting to begin Tuesday. Individuals wearing teal shirts were there in support of Downtown Elementary.

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."

Ema Sasic can be reached at 661-395-7392. Follow her on Twitter: @ema_sasic.

(6) comments

Independent Voter

Reallynow:. I'll check my privilege after you've checked the chip on your angry, bitter shoulder.

ISpy

I'd be ticked off if I had set my child up in an elite school, only to be told that it would no longer be elite. Guess I'm lucky to not have such problems.

Reallynow

I'm really disappointed that these parents think they are somehow special and they are "entitled" to a special school. This boils down to issues of access. Every child deserves a great school, not just this special group of students. You have to have a certain income level to even be able to access this school. The parents at Downtown scream about their "lottery", as though that process is fair.

"Everyone can apply" is a classist statement and these parents should really check their privilege. As it stands their process is not fair to kids, it excludes many BCSD families.

If you don't have access to personal transportation- you're excluded

If you can't pay for child care- you're excluded

If you can't jump through all the hoops of the application process- you're excluded

If you didn't even know there is a separate process for enrollment than any other BCSD school- you're excluded

If you don't have a job that lets you take time off for parent involvement, you're excluded

Side note...Parent involvement at this school is no more special than any other BCSD school. It is insulting when these parents insist otherwise. They don't own the idea of parent involvement.

Let's also think about who has the luxury of working Downtown... attorneys, doctors, business owners, salary workers, white-collar fields

Who's not working downtown? Migrant workers, construction workers, laborers, hourly workers, blue-collar workers

Why do students who live outside the district boundary and their parents who don't pay taxes to fund BCSD get an advantage over the students who live in the area around the school? Go back to your home school/district. Downtown should be a boundary school, just like everyone else.

If Downtown didn't exist, these parents would yank their kids right out of BCSD because they think NONE of the other schools in the district are good enough.

The message from their Board Meeting speeches were, "My advantaged kid needs more advantages."

The rhetoric of their school being "destroyed", "ruined" and "damaged" is pathetic. Just say, you don't want poor kids at your school. Just say, you don't want kids from Stella Hills because it will change the "complexion" of your school.

Please don't try and respond about Downtown's diversity, they are the least diverse school in the district.

Don't get me started on test scores. Test scores are mostly just an indicator of the wealth level at a school. If your needs are met and you want for nothing, school is easier. If you don't have to worry about being evicted, the lights being turned off, or where your next meal will come from, it is a bit easier to focus and have academic success.

These Downtown parents want their own school, that keeps the "riff-raff" out. Shame on them. Go build yourself a charter if you want it so bad, they are great at excluding students.

culinaryroost

Downtown is in fact one of the most diverse schools in BCSD. You're entire argument is based on misinformation. Try talking to a parent or student at Downtown before spewing false information.

culinaryroost

And since when did being a business owner become a luxury? My wife started her downtown business with nothing more than a few pots and a lot of hard work.

SamW

I have many issues with your argument but let’s start with the elite group of people you’re talking about. I’m a custodian, meaning I clean toilets for a living. My co-worker does the same. Our children attend this school. The children of mechanics attend this school. There are many types of people who work downtown and we are all eligible to apply, there is no income bracket qualification on the application; only a boundary limit in which you must work. I come from a family that lived in poverty, paycheck to paycheck does not come close to describing how we lived and yet my sister and I were always on the honor roll and she received a full ride scholarship to Fresno State. The idea that people from impoverished homes cannot expect to excel in academics is insulting.

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