Lowell H. Smith Middle School to remain closed

DAVIS-MONTHAN AIR FORCE BASE, Ariz. -- In light of the recent denial by the U.S. District Court to re-open Davis-Monthan's Lowell Smith Elementary School as a middle school next year, D-M and Tucson Unified School District leadership, parents and community members gathered for a Town Hall meeting at the Desert Lightning Community Center Monday to discuss ways to maximize options for children's education.

In March, TUSD submitted a petition to the U.S. District Court to re-open the school in August.

The court did not agree that the re-opening of Lowell Smith School would meet the standards of desegregation, Mr. Pfeuffer said, and if the petition were approved (according to the court), TUSD would be creating two racially identifiable schools.
TUSD has been under federal court orders to desegregate since 1978.

Knowing the ruling would be a disappoint to many D-M parents, base and TUSD leadership called a town hall meeting to discuss thoughts and ideas.

Col. Bruce McClintock, 355th Fighter Wing vice commander, said, "Leadership recognizes that military children face unique stressors. As military parents, we take a vast interest in our children's education, and we want to help achieve the best possible solution."

Colonel McClintock encouraged parents to actively participate in their children's education and to educate themselves.

"There are several non-profit, non-military groups that promote successful education for military kids, like the Military Child Education Coalition and the Military Impacted Schools Association. We encourage our Airmen to learn what they can from these resources and to engage with their local community partners," Colonel McClintock said.

Parents expressed frustration because they perceive that the indefinite closure of the on-base school has limited their options, and some said the ruling has forced them into alternatives they don't believe are in the best interest of their children's education.
Some options now are home-schooling, private, charter or magnet schools, Mr. Pfeuffer said.

He said another option is enrolling them in Naylor Middle School, which is close to D-M.

He recognized that to some parents Naylor may not bee seen as a good option because it hasn't yet fully met educational standards. However, Mr. Pfeuffer added, the school failed by just one-tenth of one percent.

However, Mr. Pfeuffer appealed to the audience, saying that Naylor is now a new school.

"Every school staff member is going to be newly hired," he said. "New resources and new curriculum ideas (are in the works). This is a case where we have a school in a significant state of change. Everybody (who chooses) to go to Naylor has the ability to influence the direction of the school."

Tucson Unified School District Deputy Superintendent Patti Lopez said, "We are asking you to give us a chance.

"We believe Naylor will be the most promising school and the most highly performing school within a year. We have jumped in (and put in place) a new leader and new programs for curriculum counseling.

"Teams have been meeting since before January to get the best curriculum, (and we are) hiring new teachers and providing them with better incentives." Ms. Lopez said.
She said Naylor will have a new reading program, a new language arts program, a new math program, a reading lab and that discipline standards will be a priority.

"There will be a whole new discipline program," she said. "Teachers will have intensive staff development and training in these areas and more counseling there."

Ms. Lopez said she would "personally commit" to each parent to meet their children's needs and that TUSD would be there to help them.

Mr. Pfeuffer said, "The future success of Naylor rests on every parent who sends their kids there. What the school and the district have to do is to (encourage) parent involvement."

"The challenge of all public schools is how to level the playing field," he said.

A letter to parents further explained the court's ruling by reiterating its judgment, which said that "Naylor Middle School would be identified as a minority school and Smith School would be non-minority. Conversely, if all the on-base D-M middle school students fed into Naylor Middle School, its non-minority students would increase by almost five points and its minority students would decrease by almost five points. The court finds that re-opening Smith Elementary School as a middle school has an adverse effect on desegregation obligations because it is inconsistent with on-going efforts to reduce segregation in TUSD's schools."

If Lowell Smith School opened, it would increase the number of minority students at Naylor Middle School and would not meet the desegregation criteria; consequently, most D-M parents wishing to transfer their children out of Naylor would be denied.

Stemming from Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka in 1954, the desegregation process has been in progress throughout the country for decades.

The process, Colonel McClintock said, is not unique to Tucson and D-M.

"There are 69 schools across the nation that are affiliated with military bases and all of them have had similar situations," he said. "We want to come up with solutions that best serve our children with the resources of the TUSD."

The TUSD could appeal the ruling or ask the judge to reconsider, Mr. Pfeuffer said.
But, as the school district is trying to acquire unitary status [meaning it has met the desegregation rules], and the judge is about to make a pronouncement, he said, it would not be in anyone's best interest to delay the process.

Achieving unitary status would ultimately give TUSD more power to make its own decisions.

Mr. Pfeuffer said, "We are digesting a significant disappointment. We are continuing to work to find out what all of our options are so we can maximize (parents') options. We just need a little more time."

Update: Another town hall meeting is scheduled for June 11 at 3:30 p.m. at the Desert Lightning Community Center. Interested parents (or other parties) can discuss options for D-M's middle-school students and share their views on ways to help Naylor Middle School improve.