Plan to convert Madison elementary school into kindergarten sparks controversy

jwarren@herald-leader.comNovember 13, 2013 

A proposal to convert Madison County's Mayfield Elementary School into a kindergarten center next year is drawing fire from some parents.

Mayfield PTO president Amy Kaylor says she expects a large turnout to protest the proposal when it comes up at the Madison County Board of Education's meeting Thursday night.

"If we can't change their minds, at least we will go down trying," Kaylor said.

Madison School Superintendent Elmer Thomas, who is recommending the kindergarten plan, said he understands parents' concerns. But he insists that the only "feasible" way to provide an all-day kindergarten program in the Madison County district next year is to convert Mayfield from an elementary school to a kindergarten academy.

Thomas' overall proposal also calls for four other Madison elementary schools — Kingston, Waco, Shannon Johnson and Silver Creek — to include all-day kindergartens next year. But only Mayfield would be required to close as an elementary and then reopen exclusively as an all-day kindergarten academy.

The roughly 250 elementary students attending Mayfield would shift to other schools in the district.

"As I considered the options, it became obvious that there was only one feasible alternative for all-day kindergarten, based on our space, staffing and financial situation," Thomas said. "It's the one I'm recommending."

Madison Schools officials have long wanted to offer all-day kindergarten, but funding was always an issue. Thomas said that when he was hired as superintendent last summer the school board told him to find a way to make all-day kindergarten work.

Thomas plans to use revenue from a recent 4 percent school-tax hike, which will generate about $900,000 annually. The superintendent says his kindergarten plan— including the closure of Mayfield Elementary — would use essentially all that money, much of it going for additional kindergarten teachers and para-educators.

Thomas says that each of the other kindergarten options he considered — putting an all-day kindergarten in every county elementary school or completely redistricting the entire county system — would cost more than $1 million.

But his analysis hasn't calmed the concerns of many Mayfield parents, students and teachers, according to Kaylor.

"I understand why the school system wants to do it, but I don't agree with it," she said.

Kaylor argues that closing Mayfield would be a blow for parents and students, including her own stepdaughter who is a third-grader there. Kaylor said she isn't sure where her daughter would go to school next year if Mayfield becomes a kindergarten center.

"It breaks my heart," Kaylor said. "Mayfield is a small, amazing school that gives kids the attention you don't find anywhere else. Kids get something special there."

Kaylor said students and staff at Mayfield Elementary first heard about the proposed closure Friday morning, when it was announced over the school PA system. Many were stunned, she said.

Thomas agreed that the announcement "probably jumped the gun a little bit," since it didn't allow the district time to inform teachers and parents.

Thomas planned to meet with Mayfield parents Wednesday night to go over the kindergarten proposal.

Kalor said she will speak against the plan at Thursday night's school board meeting. She said she expects other parents from Mayfield and some other county schools to oppose it as well.

"I expect it will be a packed meeting," she said.

The meeting, at Madison Southern High School, will start at 6 p.m.

Jim Warren (859) 231-3255.

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