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Columbus School Shuffle Faces Pushback At First Public Meeting

At a table in the Linden-McKinley STEM Academy gymnasium, students argued and pleaded with interim superintendent John Stanford not to shift high schoolers to East High. The move could happen in 2020 under a broad facilities reorganization now under consideration by Columbus City Schools.

The proposal wouldn't close the school, but instead of serving grades 7-12, Linden-McKinley would stick to middle schoolers. At the same time, the school would take on sixth graders from nearby elementaries in a district-wide shift to traditional middle schools. 

It’s one part of a plan that will tweak attendance boundaries, change instructional duties, and in some places retire old buildings. The proposal would also close or relocate a number of administrative buildings.

After a series of heat-related closures, district officials emphasize getting more students in more modern buildings. District spokesman Scott Varner explains what the proposal would mean for Siebert Elementary on the city’s South Side.

"We would actually be able to close that,” he says. “We would be able to send those students to Stewart Elementary, which is a newer building, and to Southwood Elementary, again another newer building.  So moving students from an older building into newer buildings. Buildings with air conditioning, by the way."

Stacey Mitchell-King.
Credit Nick Evans / WOSU
Stacey Mitchell-King at a Columbus City Schools forum to discuss a proposed district reorganization.

District officials also insist the plan isn’t final, but Stacey Mitchell-King, a health and physical education teacher at Linden-McKinley, is doubtful.

“The community here is just - it's underserved and underrepresented,” she says. “And so it just seems to me, like, I think they've already decided what they want to do."

Carla Heygi teaches English at Linden-McKinley, and went through the closure of Brookhaven High in 2014. She believes the facilities plan is likely to move forward as-is.

Heygi says she and other teachers tried to explain the proposal to their students, but they still seem shocked.

“I don’t think students realized that this could happen,” she says. “I don’t think they understood it until tonight.”

Nara Abercrombie lives nearby, and she’s worried about the potential closure of district administrative buildings as well as students and schools getting shuffled.

"You're talking about taking away four big businesses that employ people in this area,” Abercrombie says. “My kids don't attend this school, we go to Fort Hayes, but guess what? They do all their sports, they do all their activities here, and this is our home.”

Carla Heygi.
Credit Nick Evans / WOSU
Carla Heygi at a Columbus City Schools forum to discuss a proposed district reorganization.

Varner says the district expected the response to be spirited, because the schools have so much history and deep roots in their neighborhoods.

“That’s part of what the task force tried to retain by making sure that we retained Linden-McKinley as a school, retained East as a school,” Varner says. “But making changes so that, again, we’re most effectively using our buildings, at the same time making sure that we’re able to offer the best academic program to students.”

The district is hosting public meetings onSeptember 11, 13 and 20 to gather feedback. Officials hope to get a final recommendation to the board in October, so any changes can be finalized before the school lottery in January.