published Tuesday, June 7th, 2011

Backers rally against turning Park Creek Elementary School into sixth-grade academy

Lizbeth Arreguin, right, and others hold signs in front of Dalton City Hall to protest plans to turn Park Creek Elementary School into a sixth-grade academy in this file photo.
Lizbeth Arreguin, right, and others hold signs in front of Dalton City Hall to protest plans to turn Park Creek Elementary School into a sixth-grade academy in this file photo.
Photo by Angela Lewis.

DALTON, Ga. — Holding dozens of signs, cheering and waving at traffic, Park Creek Elementary School parents and staff lined the sidewalk in front of City Hall on Monday afternoon to protest turning their school into a sixth-grade academy.

“I’d appreciate if they’d leave it [the school] alone,” said Juan Mendez, who has a daughter at the school and another child who will start soon. “My little girl learned a lot, and the teachers pay attention to her.”

Standing with his wife and children, he caught a few moments of relief under a shade tree before heading back out to the sunny sidewalk.

At a board work session on May 25, committee members tasked with studying how to alleviate overcrowding at Dalton Middle School proposed rezoning all students attending Park Creek — which serves students from prekindergarten through fifth grades — to the other five elementary schools. The sixth-graders would be moved to Park Creek, which is close to the middle school and similar in architecture.

Board Chairman Steve Williams has said no decision will be made until later this summer, but the board favors the academy proposal.

The idea has been met with vehement opposition from Park Creek parents and staff. Last week, almost 300 gathered at a nearby church to share information about the proposal and voice their concerns. The group is gathering signatures on a petition to have the school remain an elementary school and plans to have several parents speak at the next school board meeting Monday.

The committee, which began meeting earlier this year, narrowed 39 ideas down to four and presented two of those to the board during the meeting. In addition to the Park Creek proposal, they suggested keeping all sixth-graders in their current elementary schools.

The Park Creek proposal likely will cost more than $5 million, while the second would cost about $3.5 million, officials said.

The other two ideas not presented at the board meeting were to change City Park School, another elementary school in the system, to a second middle school or to lease or purchase an unused facility in Dalton and renovate it.

On Monday afternoon, dozens of families braved the heat to stand in front of City Hall for three hours. Crowds of children, many of them students at Park Creek and dressed in red T-shirts, a school color, held signs in support of the school. They cheered enthusiastically when drivers on Waugh Street waved or honked in support of the gathering.

Mendez said he is afraid another school would not provide the support to parents that Park Creek does. The son of immigrant parents, he said his parents struggled to become involved in the Dalton school because of language and cultural barriers.

His wife speaks only Spanish but still attends meetings at Park Creek when Mendez can’t make it because so many of the staff speak Spanish, he said. The school is about 86 percent Hispanic.

Both of them feel as if they’re part of their children’s education, he said.

“It’s a good school,” Mendez said.

Several students, collapsing in the shade to spray each other with water bottles, agreed and clamored for a chance to talk about the school.

“I’d be mad and sad if they turned it into a sixth-grade academy,” said 8-year-old Andrea Magana. “The teachers support us and our school.”

“The school is family,” added 11-year-old Lizbeth Arreguin. “It is wrong for them to close it.”

Contact Mariann Martin at mmartin@timesfreepress.com or 706-980-5824.

about Mariann Martin...

Mariann Martin covers healthcare in Chattanooga and the surrounding region. She joined the Times Free Press in February 2011, after covering crime and courts for the Jackson (Tenn.) Sun for two years. Mariann was born in Indiana, but grew up in Pennsylvania, Tennessee and Belize. She graduated from Union University in 2005 with degrees in English and history and has master’s degrees in international relations and history from the University of Toronto. While attending Union, ...

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