A tale of two schools: Columbus City Schools board highlights potential for consolidation

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Columbus City School board members pitched school consolidation during a media tour Tuesday, highlighting the past of the district and what its future could hold under proposals for potential closures.

The media tour comes just a week after the Columbus City Schools Board of Education heard from the Superintendent’s Community Facilities Task Force, which recommended closing as many as 20 of the district’s 112 school buildings, as The Dispatch previously reported.

On Tuesday, board members presented a tale of two school buildings: Columbus Alternative High School and Downtown Columbus High School. Columbus Alternative High School, one of the district’s best-performing magnet schools, was originally an elementary school constructed in the 1920s and expanded in the 1960s. Meanwhile, Columbus Downtown High School, a career prep school, was constructed in 2009.

Board President Christina Vera and board member Brandon Simmons said they wanted to highlight the possibility of Columbus Alternative High School moving to the Downtown High School location and the career prep students who occupy Downtown High School moving to the Fort Hayes Metropolitan Education Center.

Vera said she wanted to emphasize that, from her perspective, consolidation doesn’t mean the district is taking away from students but rather improving their experiences.

“When we think about consolidation, you think you’re losing something. But being able to bring a program like CAHS to a facility like Downtown High School, you’re actually going to be able to increase enrollment opportunities,” Vera said.

Another one of the proposals put forward by the Facilities Task Force last week calls for the district to merge Columbus Downtown programs and students with Fort Hayes Metropolitan Education Center. Other proposals also call for Columbus Alternative High School to move to East High School while closing the current CAHS building at McGuffey Road, as The Dispatch previously reported.

Board Member Brandon Simmons, who is a graduate of Columbus Alternative High School, said all students in the district deserve a 21st century learning experience.

“This task force is not just about the 46,000 students who are in our buildings today,” Simmons said. “It’s about the 46,000 students who are going to be in our buildings in the future, so we want to realign our resources to really provide all of our students with the experience they really deserve.”

Desks sit inside a classroom at Columbus Alternative High School on McGuffey Road. The building was included on a list of potential closures recommended for Columbus City Schools by the Superintendent's Community Facilities Task Force.

During the tour of CAHS, Simmons pointed to outdated classrooms, bathrooms, and a stairlift rather than an elevator used to transport disabled students between floors. Later, on the second stop of the tour at Columbus Downtown High School, Vera and Simmons pointed to the modern facilities, high-quality construction, and state-of-the-art technology labs there.

While he credits CAHS as a driving factor behind his decision to run for CCS Board of Education, Simmons said he “would have liked to have different facilities.”

“I think that’s why I’m so called to serve in this moment in time and to partner with my colleagues to help get all of our students here in the district better facilities,” Simmons said.

Vera said parent and student feedback is the driving factor behind the board’s desire to deliver modern classroom environments to CCS students after voters approved the nearly $100 million levy last November.

“This is what our families told us they wanted; this is what our students told us they wanted,” Vera said. “If we think back to just last year, last fall, this is what our families have continued to tell us they want, and this is what we are trying to deliver.”

board expects some opposition from public during engagement process

Vera said the CCS Board of Education is expecting some opposition to closures when asked by The Dispatch if she thinks the board will see similar negative feedback to 2018, when the board received public backlash on closures and failed to close any schools.

“You have to expect that, because we’re talking about change, and sometimes change can be hard, especially in a city that has so many historical roots,” Vera said.

From right, Columbus City school board member Brandon Simmons, board President Christina Vera and Columbus Alternative High School principal Darryl Sanders lead a tour of the high school, which is on a proposed list of buildings recommended for potential closure by the Superintendent's Community Facilities Task Force. Columbus Alternative High School.

The district saw the first rumbling of discontent in the process late last month when Columbus Education Association President John Coneglio quit the task force prior to the release of its proposals, saying the district was focused on mass closures. On Tuesday, Vera said that the teacher’s union remains the district’s partner, and the board hears from teachers every day who are excited to work with them.

“So at the end of the day, it’s bigger than just one individual. It’s about the collective, and I believe in that power,” Vera said.

district’s public engagement sessions begin Thursday

The community engagement phase of the Superintendent’s Community Facilities Task Force process begins Thursday. The District will host community forums for attendees to view and interact with scenario maps and participate in surveys to gather community feedback. Virtual online sessions will also be available.

The times and locations on Thursday are:

  • 9:30 a.m.: Shepard Library (850 N. Nelson Road, Rooms 1 and 2)
  • 9:30 a.m.: Parsons Library (1113 Parsons Ave., Rooms 2 and 3)
  • 5:30 p.m.: Columbus Education Center (270 E. State Street, Assembly Room)
  • 5:30 p.m.: Eastmoor Academy High School (417 S. Weyant Ave.)