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Community Day School discussions continue

ABHUTCHISON, Sierra Sun

As debate continues on whether there will be a middle school remedial learning class housed on the campus of Tahoe Lake Elementary School, some parents who previously opposed the idea requested the discussions continue.

“I did receive apology phone calls,” said Tahoe Lake principal Jo Wilson. “I’ve spoken with several people who felt embarrassed by the last meeting, and have now expressed their support of the program.”

Wilson said she received such phone calls from about three parents.

At last week’s Tahoe-Truckee Unified School District regular board meeting, the board recommended that the district continue the dialogue with parents and staff at Tahoe Lake on the possibility of putting the classroom on that campus, after hearing comments from parents, teachers and Jane Loomis, principal of Sierra High School, who is trying to implement the Community Day School program.

“I think it’s doomed for failure given the reaction of certain parents,” TTUSD Superintendent Pat Gemma said at the meeting. “I feel it’s doomed for failure because those kids are going to be made to feel very unwelcome.”

Boardmember Karen Van Epps said, “I agree this program needs to be successful – it’s important to these children to feel accepted.”

The Community Day School aims to help seventh, eighth and ninth graders who are not able to keep up with their peers academically. The plan was to establish a class of 12 of these students in a Tahoe Lake classroom, with the hope that a 12 to 1 student-teacher ratio, exciting field trips and a reading interaction with the elementary schoolchildren would help bring the students up academically, according to program leaders.

“I would feel very disappointed if we pull out now without receiving more dialogue,” Loomis told boardmembers. “I do not want to give this project up. We need it in this district.”

Hostility from Tahoe Lake parents was vented at an informational meeting the first week of school. Parents came to the meeting frustrated by a lack of communication of how the program would work and concerns about safety, security and whether the middle school students would be poor role models to their elementary children.

The program is to be funded by the state, which will spend approximately $7,000 to $7,500 for each Community Day School student instead of the normal $3,800 given by the state for each student. Ninety percent of the funds are required to to be spent in the Community Day School with the stipulation that the program not be held on the middle school campus.

The district originally designated Tahoe Lake and Truckee Elementary Schools for the program, but officials said they will begin to look for other sites, based on the opposition at Tahoe Lake.

“It’s a great program and when people understand it, they’re going to say, ‘yes, we want that at our school,'” said Van Epps.

One parent explained that some of the hostility toward the program stemmed from the feeling that they were being “railroaded” by the district, with just an overall lack of communication.

Tahoe Lake parents received the letter about the information meeting the day before the meeting took place.

Other parents indicated that now that they are learning more about the program, they would like to continue the dialogue.

“I would be representing the parents and the students here,” Wilson said. “I don’t see a problem with having the Community Day School because they do not have behavior problems. That is the key here.”

A positive outcome she said she sees with the program is the interaction between the age groups.

Tahoe Lake teacher Bonnie Berry spoke to the board at last week’s meeting in support of the program, explaining her students’ reactions to the idea of older kids on campus.

“My students were so excited,” Berry said. “They thought having big kids come to the school to read to them was a wonderful thing.”

Another meeting with program leaders, parents and staff is set for Thursday, Oct. 21, at 6 p.m. at Tahoe Lake.

“We’re hoping that the people who feel positive about this attend,” Wilson said. “I’d like to hear from both sides.”

Meanwhile, Loomis is still trying to complete the paperwork for the program, which could be started up by second semester.

“I still have the plan that we’ll do it, but it’s just that we have to do the groundwork first,” she said. “I really want this program to go through and I think we’ll just keep trying to get the information out to the community.”

Gemma said he supports the fact the dialogue will continue.

“I’m encouraged by parents requesting more dialogue,” he said. “I think (the program) is an excellent opportunity to reconnect some of our kids. In fact, I would think they would add value. But when I am faced with the opinion of some of these parents that they would pose as poor role models to their children, it’s difficult for me to propose putting these kids in an unwelcoming environment.”

He said based on comments by some of the parents, however, he feels some will never change their minds.

Any other sites that consider housing the program will hold an informational meeting, said Gemma.


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