FAIRFIELD — Parents, students and teachers are organizing a fight against a school board vote to close Sullivan Middle School, calling it another attack on the city’s poorest students and a cut that can be avoided.
“We’re just really frustrated,” said LeRoy Purvis, the parent of a Sullivan graduate, current student and an incoming student.
This week, “Save Sullivan” began a petition drive that as of Tuesday afternoon had 380 signatures. People signing the petition left notes as well.
“I am signing because this is my school,” wrote Shelby Durden. “And there is a lot of potential to this school. Please spare my middle school.”
“Although I am a graduating eighth-grader and this closure wouldn’t affect my high school years, I am signing this petition to stand up for the future of Sullivan,” wrote Angela Balolong. “Sullivan has been a home to a very large number of students and the decision of its closure and the mere thought that there will never be another student to experience the amazing Celtic years is heartbreaking.”
“I agree with the petition. It would be devastating to students to have to go to Grange and be involved with such large classes,” wrote Deanna Siefke.
The petition lists several concerns. One of them is that the closure of Sullivan will move most of its students to Grange Middle School, creating a population of at least 1,500 students on one campus and affecting some of the district’s poorest students. Eighty percent of Sullivan students and 63 percent of Grange students are identified as socioeconomically disadvantaged, according to district figures.
By contrast, the percentage of enrollment identified as socioeconomically disadvantaged is 38.2 percent at K-8 B. Gale Wilson School, 29.3 percent at Green Valley Middle and 60.9 percent at Crystal Middle School.
“It’s easier to make these changes to those kinds of people because they don’t fight back,” said Purvis, who said poorer residents have other things to worry about. “Whether that’s intended or not I have no idea. But, at least, it looks really bad.”
Sullivan and Armijo High graduate Dwight Lundy, who now works at a Sullivan after-school program, has visited the school over the past weeks and says the students are blaming themselves, believing they were singled out because of their background or low test scores.
“We were prepping them, telling them they need to study so they can show the district they made a mistake by shutting them down,” Lundy said.
Teacher Paula Vargas said closing Sullivan will take a “safe haven” away from children who need it most. The longer walk to Grange, she said, will be another challenge to keep the students attending schools regularly.
“The kids are crying out, they want their school saved,” Vargas said. “We need to send that message.”
The school board in February voted to cut $1.2 million by closing an elementary and middle school as part of $6.5 million in cuts needed to close next year’s deficit. The board avoided closing an elementary school by using givebacks offered by district managers and further cutting the adult education budget.
That covered $400,000, the savings of closing an elementary school. The school board then went forward with closing Sullivan, which saves $800,000.
Purvis, however, has come up with his own solution based on district figures and proposals. His proposal uses the district’s approved proposal to save an elementary school ($400,000) and adds the teacher union’s earlier proposal to offer concessions equal to 66 percent of the cost of running the two schools, or $744,000.
It calls for delaying the opening date of the district’s new Public Safety Academy for one year and waiting for results of the November tax initiatives, which could bring in funding for local schools.
Purvis, who is organizing Save Sullivan, said he is encouraging supporters to rally at the board meeting at 6 p.m. Thursday at 2490 Hilborn Road.
Reach David DeBolt at 427-6935 or [email protected] Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/daviddebolt.