Julie Jones has three children at Cahoon Elementary, a magnet school that specializes in animal science. She went out to a recent community meeting to find out about the planned merger with Van Buren Middle School.
She was not happy. “We want it to remain a magnet school,” she said. But while the animal sciences program will remain as an attractor for children in the North Tampa neighborhood, it will no longer bus children in from neighborhoods such as Carrollwood, where Jones’s family lives.
Jones said she and her children like the family atmosphere at the school. “All the teachers at the school know all three of my children by name,” she said. They like the principal. They like the opportunities they’ve had to participate in the district STEM fair.
And she likes the ethnic diversity. “My kids are open-minded and they know people from everywhere,” she said.
While few parents seemed to object to the merger itself with the under-enrolled middle school, Jones said the consensus was that they’d like the entire Pre-K-through-8 school emerge as a magnet.
And they were disappointed that, while assistant superintendent Larry Sykes asked them what they would like to see in the school, he made it clear that they were not there to debate the decision.
This is the first attempt by the Hillsborough County School District to consolidate under-enrolled schools and redraw boundaries to save money on transportation and construction. Officials are using the Cahoon-Van Buren roll-out to fine-tune the way they introduce changes such as these, which are inevitable around the large district.
Sykes, now in his first year in this community outreach position, led the question-and-answer session. Jones said he seemed light on the details. In response to some questions, he said that will depend on a new principal who has not been chosen yet. The merger and the changes do not take affect until August of 2018.
Another community meeting is scheduled for 6 p.m. at Van Buren Middle.