Thu February 01, 2024

By Jeff Smithpeters

Move from HAPS location was subject of last night's Hope Public Schools meeting
Tuesday evening, Hope Public Schools Superintendent Jonathan Crossley presided over a briefing session and public meeting, video of which was posted on the district's Youtube site , with a near capacity crowd about plans to move students and staff from the current Hope Academy of Public Service location. 

For the first several minutes, Crossley explained to those gathered in a Hempstead Hall meeting room what had prompted the decision to move from the former Garland Elementary building on 601 West Sixth.  “This started from a conversation of, okay, long term we cannot 240 kids and 40 staff members in a location that has clay piping for sewage. You just can’t do that.” He said simply to fix that issue would require hundreds of thousands of dollars that the district cannot afford.  In addition, the current HAPS location lacks a gym and has drainage problems on its grounds. 

While noting that the decision to move was not final, that the HPS board of education will meet February 19th to begin discussion about what specific course to take, Crossley said now is the time for community members to express their opinions and submit their ideas to their representatives on the board or to the school district’s offices. He said the Tuesday night meeting would not be the only one to be held concerning the issue. 

As for the timing of the movie, Crossley said that was not definite, but it was possible the move could be effected in the next school year or more gradually. 

Crossley presented three options of how to move HAPS students and staff into already existing facilities in the district. The first option would be to have two campuses, Beryl Henry and Yerger Middle School, serve grades 5-8, with Yerger serving those with interests in Science Technology Engineering, Arts and Math and Beryl Henry serving those interested in Digital Literacy and Public Service.  In essence, this would be moving all HAPS students to Beryl Henry. 

The pro of this option, Crossley explained would be the ability of a student to follow the same interest pathway for all four grades at the same location.  A con would be the risk of the persistence with students, parents and staffers of an image of HAPS as a kind of “city upon a hill” that has been seen as more exclusive than Yerger, despite past behavioral and teacher recommendation requirements having been dropped in favor of student interest as the sole criteria for HAPS enrollment. Crossley said he had seen and heard talk that reflected this idea and he had been troubled by it because his purpose is to create equitable education opportunities at all the HPS middle schools. 

The second option for the move would be to split the students at HAPS so that students in the 5 and 6 grade levels go to one school (either Beryl Henry or Yerger) and the 7 and 8 grade levels go to another. With the second option, as Crossley describes it, HAPS would become “a school within a school” on both locations. 

The pro of this option, Crossley said, would be the ability of students to mix and match courses from a STEAM emphasis and from the Digital Literacy/Community Service emphasis to suit their own specific preferences. The con of this option would be the need for both the Yerger and Beryl Henry locations to be able to accommodate both the STEAM and Digital Literacy/Community Service emphases. 

Crossley also took the time to address the objection he had heard that eliminating HAPS as its own testing cohort would be eliminating the cohort with the highest state report grade, a B.  Crossley said that incorporating HAPS into Yerger and Beryl Henry would add a bump in scores to two schools that are already showing signs of improved state report card grades. 

He also cautioned members of the audience to be more conscientious about the way they talked about specific schools, often emphasizing the negative while lacking awareness of the ways those schools are improving. He cited the $15 million ten-year grant from the Department of Education that has only begun to be dispersed and the eventual creation of a literacy academy to teach all students to read by the second grade as reasons think better of the district’s future. 

Crossley revealed the results of a survey that asked respondents which of the two options they preferred. Of 357 respondents, 239 rated the idea of two campuses with grades 5-8 (the first option Crossley presented) as either their first or second choice.  But 263 rated the idea of one campus with grades 5 and 6 and another campus with grades 7 and 8 as either their first or second choice. Crossley said these results did not mean he was leaning toward splitting the four grades. “I’m just giving you some intel,” he said. 

In the comments and questions section of the meeting, Crossley heard from about ten audience members, some parents, a few principals of Hope campuses, a few current and former teachers and, toward the end, two school board members and Hope Mayor Don Still.  Each participant was given a two-minute time limit in which to speak. 

The first question was why the February 19th school board meeting represented an end point of discussion about the decision.  Crossley said this was because difficulties come up if the decision is made later pertaining to having things set up for the following academic year if that is required by the decision. “Rarely have I seen progress delayed turn out to be good for people generally,” he said. 

Asked if another survey would be opened up, Crossley said he did not expect to because he had concluded that more information needed to be dispensed.  He was asked, then, whether he had a preference between the two options.  Crossley said he leaned toward the first option of keeping HAPS students of grades 5-8 together because it meant the staffers and faculty of HAPS would be in one place and because he could see how the structure of Beryl Henry would allow for one hallway for the HAPS program. 

Another attendee echoed Crossley’s statement from earlier in the meeting that there was a need to dispel misinformation about the undesirability of other schools in the HPS system and that many in the community are worried about losing the qualities that they felt set HAPS apart. Crossley said while many of these statements aren’t fully informed because of the growth of the quality in the other schools, they do reflect the reality that not all school locations have the same resources right now. But the statements do point toward work that remains to be done in the district. 

Asked whether anyone would lose their jobs over the HAPS move, Crossley said that would not occur, but that allowing the problem of the inadequate facility for HAPS to fester over a period of years could lead to jobs lost over a ten-year period because of overstaffing. He also said the price of building a new school building was prohibitive for the district, especially as it was not gaining numbers of students. 

Another attendee asked if the failure of the millage request in last August’s election was what prompted the discussions of moving from HAPS. This prompted Crossley to name the funding amounts it would take to do facility upgrades to each campus in need of it, which he estimated would cost $5 million for Hope High, $6 million for Yerger, $15 million for HAPS and $2 million for Beryl Henry. This totals $38 million of which Crossley estimated the district would have to pay $20 million while the district’s operating account is $4 million.  Meanwhile, state leaders, he said, would look at the fact that Hope has 2,300 students divided among five campuses and not be as likely to fund new buildings. 

Crossley said in the short term, however, Hope High School’s new Agricultural Building and Yerger’s new gym have been approved for state financing. 

A former teacher asked what would be done with students who lacked interest in any of the pathways offered in Hope’s middle school grades and simply wanted to take the core classes. Crossley said these students would be advised and counselled to become involved in many of the programs on offer.  “You could view it like now all kids are getting a HAPS experience,” he said. 

Another attendee asked what would be done with the current HAPS building. Crossley said about 14 administrators and staffers could be placed there, and it could be used as a training site for teachers or potentially a meeting place for the school board since its current meeting place in the HPS administrative building is upstairs, which is “not an optimal place for some of our population.” 

Sylvia Brown, local chapter NAACP president asked that the school board members speak in the meeting, naming the ones present. Crossley said he was happy to hear from them but didn’t want to put them on the spot. (Two did eventually speak.) 

Another attendee said she hoped her child could associate with students from many different communities so as to become prepared for diversity of workplaces, which led her to prefer having all the grade-levels at HAPS at either Yerger or Beryl Henry. 

Another questioner asked if the HAPS program could end up accommodating more students. Crossley said there was still room for more HAPS students at its current facility, but that if HAPS is relocated he could see more students being served than the current 240 no matter which option the board chooses. 

A woman asked why the HAPS mindset needed to persist if, after the move, the programs available to HAPS students would be available to all middle school students. Crossley agreed, saying fundamentally the movement in Hope’s schools is toward offering more options for its students according to their respective interests. 

Another woman asked if the availability of core courses for the college bound would be retained. Crossley responded that the district is assuming all the core courses were aimed toward a student’s goal of attending college. 

Kedrick Jones, Principal of Beryl Henry, stood up to respond to the perception that Beryl Henry students had more behavioral problems, saying this was the result of a loss of role models after leaving elementary school. But he said Beryl Henry’s staff was responding well to students perceived as “a little rough around the edges.” 

Crossley took this occasion to emphasize that all the campuses are affected by negative perceptions, but he knew that each respective school was making strides toward improvement. “We’re demonizing too quickly instead of expanding and seeing the strength in our community,” he said. 

Mike Radebaugh, Principal of Yerger, spoke of the quality of teachers, explaining that he had seen students who were able to come up with their own critical questions about presented material. He said his teachers were not thinking of students minds as vessels to be filled with knowledge but as sparks to be lighted and this was true of teachers throughout the district. 

Two school board members spoke near the end of the session.  First Bubba Powers, who said he hadn’t yet made up his mind about the reconfiguration but said Crossley had presented the problem and the option to the board in a three-hour work session.  He called for understanding of the need to make decisions in tune with the needs of current and future students. “This can't be done without you. But I am so heartened by the input,” he said in closing. 

School board president Alvis Hamilton spoke of the need to have teachers be well-paid so that they would be motivated to take the time with students that is needed.  He said he was available by phone to hear any concerns about the school system. 

Mayor Don Still told of Governor Sarah Huckabee Sanders touring Beryl Henry two weeks ago. He said the governor and he himself were impressed with the passion of the staff to serve students. Still reflected that many times the only thing people heard about what was going on in schools was bad, but that he knew the superintendent and staff were doing good things that ought to be more widely known. 

After this some attendees suggested Spanish translation be given for the meetings and the need to communicate more widely about upcoming meetings.  This one ended at about 7:00, having begun at 5:00 p.m. Superintendent Crossley said the February regular meeting of the school board, scheduled for Monday February 19th, would have the reconfiguration on its agenda.