Teamwork called for in school planning

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, July 14, 2004

The Suffolk School Board last week voted on a name for the new elementary school that is in the planning stages.

Creekside Elementary will be built in the Shoulders Hill Road area in the city’s growing northern section. That Suffolk is able to afford to build $45 million high schools and new elementary schools is good news – many communities are not so fortunate. However, comments coming from School Board members and our superintendent are somewhat disconcerting.

Suffolk city officials have been working hard for the better part of a decade to build a new city. Zoning and village and neighborhood development initiatives have been designed to promote quality, long-term growth that will feed upon each preceding level.

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The School Board could play a central role in this process, but seems unwilling to partner in the effort.

Throughout America communities are finding that schools can be the impetus for neighborhood revitalization as well as finding creative ways to leverage these monstrous, expensive assets.

Municipal planners are teaming with school administrators, the community and other public and private partners to create co-located community schools.

According to the American Planning Association, when communities co-locate a school with a public library, fine arts center, senior center, community college branch, soccer stadium, public park, museum or zoo and you create a valuable new community asset that reaches beyond the traditional function of public school. Suddenly the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

Schools are becoming neighborhood centers of rejuvenated communities. Physical fitness increases because students can walk to their school, or have to climb steps in two-story schools; student performance is improving because parents have easier access to the schools and get more involved in their child’s work; and expensive facilities that closed more than they are open, are better utilized by area residents – a community gets more bang for its buck.

The Suffolk School Board and superintendent, however, for some reason seem to have tunnel vision where school buildings are concerned, hung up on a 1960s-70s model in which sprawling, single-level schools are dropped in the middle of nowhere.

Granted, there are safety and other concerns – not the least of which is resegregation of schools – associated with neighborhood schools. Still, if School Boards are going to siphon off 45 to 50 percent of a community’s financial resources each year, they should be at least willing to come to the table and discuss these matters.

Revitalizing a city takes teamwork. The School Board needs to join the team.