A number of criticisms on the Lake Contrary School pre-K renovation plan are without merit, and the district is eager to proceed, school leaders said Tuesday.
Dr. Marlie Williams, St. Joseph School District assistant superintendent, presented a number of data points her office has compiled to address claims that the plan will result in overlong commute times for young children; that the school’s location in the South Side is not practical; and that better options, among others, are available elsewhere. Williams went down this list, point by point, and showed how, in her stated view, none of them are valid.
“To be perfectly clear, I don’t think anyone in any of our conversations has made the statement that we believe Lake is a perfect location,” Williams said. “But I do believe that Lake does fill a need in terms of opening access to early learning for more children in the city.”
Williams said parents have been calling about the risk that young children will have to travel long distances to get to the school, situated at 1800 Alabama St., a roughly 11-minute drive from Downtown. In fact, numbers given by Williams show, more than 85% of all current preschool families are served by an elementary school that is less than 8 miles away from Lake Contrary.
Noyes School, by comparison, is not suitable because, following its 2014 closure, the district removed its kitchen and playground equipment, and other services that have not been restored by the school’s recent usage as the home of the SJSD Virtual Academy. In addition to retaining these features since its 2018 closure, Williams observed, Lake Contrary is situated on one floor, a significant safety and accessibility advantage.
Per Williams, this is especially important because the school district — as have many of its peers — anticipates low-incidence classrooms will be in ever-increasing demand. “Low-incidence” refers to a class of delayed/disadvantaged development conditions and disabilities experienced by preschool-age children.
Board member David Foster inquired as to the advantage of a single preschool site. Williams told him this enhances staff collaboration, and supports boons such as the ability to provide hot meals to kids, instead of boxed meals for elsewhere.
“That collaboration is priceless, and then the kids benefit from that,” Board President Tami Pasley said. “And yes, it’s a benefit for teachers, but they still collaborate across town. This way, the child — every single child — will benefit from all of the collaboration of our teachers, right there. And what one teacher notices, or another teacher is especially good at, the benefit to the students is just ... You can’t put a price on it.”
Board member Kenneth Reeder, a critic of the Lake Contrary plan, did not attend.