Education feature: Lincoln-Jackson easing into transition

Lincoln-Jackson Arts Academy will merge with Bella Vista Elementary in the fall. (Staff photo: Eric Kluth)

By Marlena Hartz: CNJ staff writer

The costumes, museum artifacts and literature Sara Hennessy uses to teach her fifth-grade class about the Colonial era have been packed away in a box.

The Lincoln-Jackson Arts Academy teacher finished the unit earlier this year, so she boxed the items to prepare for the move to Bella Vista Elementary.

This summer, the two schools will merge, and Hennessy, along with the rest of the Lincoln-Jackson staff will move into the Bella Vista building.
“This is not a matter of losing a school. It’s a matter of expanding a school so that more children, inside and outside the school zone, can benefit,” said Lincoln-Jackson Principal Shelly Norris.

Norris said she receives more than a dozen inquiries a week from concerned residents who fear the acclaimed arts academy, which was founded about five years ago because Lincoln-Jackson Elementary students were floundering academically, will no longer operate.

That is simply not true, Norris said. A goal of the merger is to keep the integrity and spirit of both schools alive, she said.

The merger will also shrink the list of students who want to attend Lincoln-Jackson but cannot at its cramped location, according to school administrators. About 60 students generally hover on that list since the academy opened, administrators said.

Located a few miles from Lincoln-Jackson, and encompassed by empty, amber fields, Bella Vista has plenty of room for a larger student body, according to Clovis Municipal Schools Superintendent Rhonda Seidenwurm.

Until the district receives state capital outlay funds, students will have to be housed in portable buildings, she said. But Lincoln-Jackson is pinned in by stucco and brick homes, limiting any possibility of expansion.

The merger will also cut school district operation costs.

But not everyone is a proponent. Many parents and teachers from the schools expressed concerns with the move, fearing the merger school would muddle the learning environment.

Those fears are being addressed.

Transition teams for parents, teachers and students have been assembled at Bella Vista and Lincoln-Jackson.

Teachers from both schools have met about six times, Norris said, with Lincoln-Jackson teachers hashing out the arts-infused philosophy, which incorporates art in teaching all subjects, with their new colleagues.

“We are trying to find a middle ground,” said Bella Vista Principal Adan Estrada, “on where we will meet to include all aspects of what Bella Vista has to offer and what Lincoln-Jackson has to offer.”

A parent transition team will meet for the first time next Thursday, Norris said. Once the annual testing period ends, students from Bella Vista and Lincoln-Jackson will begin a shadowing program, where students from Bella Vista spend a day at Lincoln-Jackson, and vice versa.

“We still have a lot to do, but by the end of (this) school year, I think we will have a great program,” Estrada said.