Parents oppose proposed school merger

Clovis resident Bruce Pollard spoke to parents, school officials and other community members Monday night at Lincoln-Jackson Arts Academy. (Staff photo: Sharna Johnson)

By Marlena Hartz: CNJ staff writer

Lincoln-Jackson Arts Academy reminds Nick Chavez of the comforts of home.

“In my Hispanic family, we gather around the kitchen. It’s the warmest spot in the house. That’s how I see this school — we are familia,” Chavez said.

That family atmosphere will be lost if Lincoln-Jackson merges with Bella Vista Elementary school, according to Chavez and many other parents who gathered at the Lincoln-Jackson cafeteria Monday night to discuss the merger proposed by Clovis Schools Superintendent Rhonda Seidenwurm.

Lincoln-Jackson has a student population of 146 as of this fall. It was transformed into an arts academy about four years ago after the state threatened to close the school due to low student performance.

“When we make that jump (to Bella Vista), it will be like having dinner in the Astrodome,” said Chavez, father of two Lincoln-Jackson students.

Seidenwurm said the merger is part of a series of proposals that can save the district about $500,000, and would cushion the district — and teachers’ salaries — from a projected $1.7 million budget deficit.

If approved by the school board, Seidenwurm said, Lincoln-Jackson Arts Academy would “move lock, stock and barrel” to Bella Vista.

Seidenwurm also proposed the closure of Ranchvale Elementary School and the transfer of its students to Barry and Sandia elementary schools.

The Lincoln-Jackson building would house another district program, Seidenwurm said.

“This building is a treasure not only for this community, but for this city. We want to make sure there is a program here that honors this building’s history,” Seidenwurm said.

Seidenwurm said the most viable program proposed for the building thus far is the district’s family literacy program. The program serves 4-year-olds and their families.

Parents objected to Seidenwurm’s proposals despite repeated assurances that classroom sizes will not be altered and that the Lincoln-Jackson’s arts-infused curriculum will not be compromised.

“My son will not do good in a big environment… When he came to this school he said, ‘this is where I will grow into what God wants me to be,’” said mother Sandra Barnett.

Principal Shelly Norris of Lincoln-Jackson is a proponent of the merger.

“Parents have called me at home. Parents have stopped me in Wal-Mart and asked me if this a good thing.

Lincoln-Jackson will build on and grow on. It’s a great thing, but in another way, change is always a difficult thing,” Norris said.

Other issues addressed:
• What will the merger-school be named?

It will probably be called Bella Vista Arts Academy, Seidenwurm said. “The Lincoln-Jackson name stays here,” Seidenwurm said.

• Will students wear uniforms at the Bella Vista campus?

That is something that would be decided by the staff, Seidenwurm said.

• Will students who are not from either of the two merging schools be admitted?

Seidenwurm said “every single student” in the Lincoln-Jackson district and the Bella Vista district would be guaranteed a spot at the new school. There are currently 60 parents from outside the two school zones who want their children to attend Lincoln-Jackson, but there is not enough room. Seidenwurm said those parents would also be able to attend a Bella Vista Arts Academy if there is room.

• What will happen to the current Lincoln-Jackson staff?

Teachers will move with the students and join Bella Vista staff, Seidenwurm said.