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Dickenson parents argue to save school

Supporters of the middle school don't want students dispersed to four other schools.

Published April 4, 2006

TAMPA - School district officials came to Webb Middle School on Monday to present attendance options for 579 children who would be displaced by the closure of Dickenson Elementary School in southern Town 'N Country.

The children could go to one of four nearby elementary schools, or take part in a reopened school choice program, pupil assignment director Steve Ayers said.

But the nearly 200 parents, educators, community members and children who filled the cafeteria would have none of it.

"I say, where is my choice?" parent organizer Carrie Bowcock asked. "I choose Dickenson."

Bowcock and others presented alternative proposals that would keep their A-rated, working class community school open as an elementary rather than an alternative campus. If Dickenson is under capacity, Bowcock said, bring back some children who were sent to now overcapacity Davis Elementary instead.

If the school district needs an alternative school, said parent Norma Malavey, buy the vacant Kmart on Hanley Road. The district should use Dickenson as a model of success, PTA president Erin Dawson said, rather than shutter it and send its children to less successful schools.

"If the motivation is our children, then Dickenson should remain open," Malavey said.

The school district has proposed redrawing attendance zones throughout western Hillsborough County. In all, 20 schools would be rezoned, with more than 1,500 children moving in the fall.

The most drastic change would come to Dickenson, which sits across the street from Berkeley Prep on Kelly Road. School officials have suggested closing Dickenson as an elementary school, sending its 579 students to open seats in four adjacent school zones, and reopening Dickenson as a campus for children who do not learn well in the mainstream environment.

School Board members have been seeking to limit construction and maximize the use of existing space in advance of an expected sales tax referendum. They have said it would be easier to ask voters for more money only after showing the district efficiently uses the space it has now.

Dawson contended that, if the district had included parents from the community in its planning, better ideas would have emerged. Someone would have thought about how parents have too little time to secure child care near different schools, for instance. Someone might have considered making a magnet program for students with limited English proficiency at Dickenson, which has proven success with such children, she added.

"We have beaten the odds," Dawson said.

Several parents from Westchase, which is fighting its own battle to avoid attendance zone changes, came out to support Dickenson's efforts.

Bill Person, general director of pupil placement for the district, said the superintendent's staff is listening to the comments at eight community meetings. Some, like those involving Dickenson and Westchase, have drawn hundreds.

"As of right now, we haven't changed any of the proposals," Person said.

The district will have community meetings at Bellamy Elementary on Wednesday and Alexander Elementary on Thursday. The School Board is expected to have a workshop on the topic April 12, and to vote April 18.

[Last modified April 4, 2006, 03:00:35]

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