June 30, 2016

Partly sunny

Residents worry Heritage Elementary will close if levy fails

The pool across the street from Heritage Elementary School, operated by the local homeowners’ association, is a summer gathering place for students and their parents.

But the topic of conversation isn’t the usual vacation plans or neighborhood gossip. All everyone is talking about is the possibility that the school might close in the 2014-15 school year.

Lauri Walburn, whose daughter, Ashleigh, 5, will start kindergarten next year at Heritage Elementary School, has started a “Friends of Heritage Elementary” group to campaign to pass the November levy. (GAZETTE PHOTO BY KIERA MANION-FISCHER)

“A lot of people moved into this neighborhood because of the school,” said Lauri Walburn, former Heritage Parent Teacher Organization president. She sat outside Thursday afternoon, watching her 5-year-old daughter, Ashleigh, play with friends.

Ashleigh will start kindergarten at Heritage this fall.

Walburn has started a group called Friends of Heritage Elementary with the goal of campaigning for a November levy that would preserve neighborhood schools in Medina.

At Monday’s Medina City Board of Education meeting, interim Superintendent David Knight announced that if the 5.9-mill levy on the November ballot fails, he would recommend transforming the district’s traditional neighborhood schools using a “banded elementary school concept.”

Instead of each school having five grades, there would be no more than two grades in six schools and Heritage, the district’s seventh elementary school, would close.

Knight said the drastic change was aimed at avoiding a $1 million shortfall in the 2014-15 school year.

So far, Walburn’s group has about 140 fans on Facebook. She plans to collaborate with Friends of Medina City Schools, the official levy campaign committee.

Walburn said she feels frustrated that years of failed levies — five since 2008 — have led to the possibility of closing Heritage.

“If the school were to close, what is that going to do to property values?” she said.

At the same time, she fears elementary students throughout the district will lose the sense of community.

Carol Starrick, principal of Heritage Elementary, had similar thoughts.

“It’s not just the loss of Heritage as a neighborhood school,” she said. “It’s the loss of every neighborhood school because of the restructuring. The loss of that is heartbreaking.”

She said two-thirds of the staff at each elementary school, along with students, would have to move. “It’s really not a building issue, it’s a citywide issue,” she said.

Another Heritage parent, Kim Brightbill, agreed, saying the change “really destroys community.”

“I’m appalled,” she said. “I don’t know what other word to use. I understand the fact that resources are limited and that money needs to come from somewhere.”

Delaney Crean, 10, who graduated from Heritage this year and will be a sixth-grader in the fall, had high praise for Heritage.

“It’s the best school ever,” she said. “They have amazing teachers.”

Heritage’s own traditions

All of Heritage’s students live within two miles and most either walk or bike to school. Every day at 8:25 a.m., the entire school gathers around the media center, which is in the center of the building, and says the Pledge of Allegiance and sings a patriotic song.

“Like any building in Medina, there’s such a culture at Heritage,” Meuler said. “There’s a feeling of family at all the elementaries. It’s not just a place to come learn, it’s a place to feel safe and comfortable and loved.”

Crean’s younger sister Kennedy, 7, will be going into first grade in the fall at Heritage. She’s heard about the plan, too.

“I would miss the school because I didn’t even get to see all the teachers,” she said solemnly.

The closure would also mean staff cuts for a principal, teachers, secretaries and custodians.

Michelle Meuler, a fourth-grade teacher at Heritage, was at Monday’s board meeting when Knight said Heritage would be closed.

“I ended up having to leave because I’m a very emotional person,” she said.

“I was trying not to cry in public.”

Contact reporter Kiera Manion-Fischer at (330) 721-4049 or kfischer@medina-gazette.com.