German Village Gazette

Group asks school board for changes at Stewart


To members of Southside STAY, the numbers are sobering: Of the schools in the South Side feeder pattern, two are in continuous improvement, four are under academic watch and one is in academic emergency.

A recent neighborhood survey indicated that 83 percent of residents were dissatisfied with their school options and 73 percent planned to leave once their children reached school-age.

The good news is, if the neighborhood had higher-rated schools with guaranteed admission and safety, it's likely 30 percent of families would stay in area to raise their children, said Matt Eshelbrenner, a co-founder of the neighborhood group.

About 15 members of Southside STAY -- Staying Together to Advance Youth -- took that message to the Jan. 8 Columbus City Schools Board of Education meeting, where they urged district officials to make Stewart Alternative Elementary School into a combination lottery/neighborhood school.

Enrollment at Stewart is now based entirely on a lottery system. Eshelbrenner said they do not want to displace any students who are currently enrolled there.

When the school reopens in 2014 after a major renovation project that will add 18,000 square feet, it will have room for 45 additional students, the group says.

Part of STAY's request includes making Stewart a pre-kindergarten through sixth grade school -- it is now K-5 -- by preserving the Columbus Maennerchor building. That would increase enrollment to 510, STAY maintains.

The district plans to demolish the later additions to the building but has not made a final determination on the use of the historic portion of the structure.

Renovating it, however, is not part of the current plan, said Carole Olshavsky, who's in charge of capital improvements for the district.

Stewart has been closed since July 2010 because of a fire.

Students were reassigned to nearby Beck Elementary School.

Nearly 54 percent of the respondents in STAY's survey have school-age children, yet only 11 percent of those respondents are utilizing CCS in some capacity.

Carrie Davenport, a member of STAY, said she and her husband, David, have two children, the oldest of whom is enrolled in a private school.

Davenport, a former school teacher and current educational consultant, said her options are limited if her children stay in CCS.

"We want her enrolled in public school," said Davenport, who lives in Merion Village. "That's really the message."

School officials didn't take any action at the meeting, but promised to make decisions in the near future.

"We are pretty excited about the enthusiasm on the South Side," CCS Superintendent Gene Harris said at the meeting.