Closing Sheppard Elementary Will Hurt the Community

Testimony of Keely Gray to the BOE, 12/10/20

Good evening. My name is Keely Gray and I am a teacher at Isaac Sheppard Elementary. 

While it is true there have been no CSPR planning committee meetings since Spring, we do know that some CSPR related projects have been occurring and that planning committee meetings will resume in the very near future. We believe in being proactive. 

Nine days before COVID-19 shut down in-school instruction for our students and changed our world as we knew it, Sheppard had an impressive showing at a community forum, where parents, community members, and staff members made it clear that closing Sheppard is not what the community wants, and is not what is best for the children. 

Some people have expressed confusion as to why we are using the word “closure” when engaging in this process. The answer is twofold. 

First, unfortunately, we have been down a similar road before. Back in 2012, we proved to the School Reform Commission that we should remain open. When deciding to keep our school open, one SRC member said that he “felt very strongly that they should try to do no harm.” Another stated that the district should support, rather than dismantle, our school and schools like ours. We are still waiting on that support, by the way. 

Secondly, we are aware that no official recommendation has been made, and that in no document will you find the word “closure.”

However, what you will find are proposals that include words like “relocate” “co-locate”, “reassign”, and “repurpose.” We all know that those are just fancier, less threatening ways to say closure. 

We are aware that the district is in financial trouble, but closing Sheppard is not the answer to the district’s problems. 

One priority of the CSPR process is to “Avoid adversely impacting any specific community.” If you close Sheppard, you WILL be adversely impacting the students. You will be choosing to send them to a lower-performing school, on a longer route that cannot be described as safe. You will be actively harming the community in which they live by taking away a hub for positivity, safety, and education. The community around Sheppard faces a multitude of challenges, and theirs was one of the hardest hit by the pandemic. Now, more than ever, our students need stability. 

It is important to remember that just because we CAN do something, does not mean that we should. Yes, we can fill schools to capacity, using every square inch and putting 30 seven year olds in a classroom. But, should we? Before COVID-19, I would argue that is not what is best for our students educationally. Now, it is not in their best interest in terms of education OR safety. Not to mention, the school that would receive our students does not even have enough room for them.