A survey regarding the proposed realignment of Rush and Tamaqua Elementary Schools will be distributed to the families of both schools.
Tamaqua Area Superintendent Carol Makuta discussed the survey Tuesday night during the school district's monthly board of education meeting.
Makuta has proposed converting Rush Elementary, Hometown, which currently houses kindergarten through grade five, into a center for kindergarten and first grade students from Tamaqua and Rush Township. Grades 2-5 from Rush would be moved to Tamaqua Elementary.
The move is being considered because Rush Elementary currently operates at about one-third capacity. Turning Rush into a K-1 Center would boost enrollment from its current 121 to about 230, according to the projections of the district's administration.
West Penn Elementary School, New Ringgold, is located about seven miles outside Tamaqua Borough near the Village of Snyders, and is not being considered as part of the consolidation proposal.
Makuta had presented the proposal to the faculty, but word of the change leaked out, drawing the ire of a number of Rush Elementary parents. About 50 people turned out in the middle school cafeteria on April 13 as Makuta pitched it to the school board.
Makuta said the district has posted a survey regarding the realignment on the district's website (www.tamaquasd.org), as well as having it available at Rush and Tamaqua Elementary Schools and the administration building at 138 West Broad St., Tamaqua.
The survey asks for respondents to list positive attributes and areas of concern with the proposed move. Only one response per family is requested. The deadline is April 30.
Under public comment, Kelly Boyer Balogach, a Lake Hauto parent of two Rush Elementary students who is opposed to a switch to a K-1 Primary Center, asked if the survey was going to be distributed to the students to take it home to their parents.
"I only found out about it when I saw it on a desk at Rush," said Balogach.
"I put it on the website and in each building. Did I give it to each child? No," stated Makuta. "I felt the word was already out there."
"Some people don't have the Internet," said Balogach.
Makuta said she wasn't opposed to distributing the survey to each child.
"The district hasn't approved any other distribution," she added, noting that copies of the survey were placed in residents' mailboxes by another party without the school board's consent.
Makuta agreed to have the surveys distributed to Tamaqua and Rush Elementary students to take home to their parents.
Some parents expressed concerns about disturbing the status quo at Rush, which has produced higher PSSA (Pa. System of School Assessment) scores than the other elementary schools.
"I feel that Rush is almost like a magnet school in the area," said Lynn Elko, Hometown. "You are taking your highest performing elementary school and trying to level the playing ground for all the students. "That school is almost like a model, so I don't understand it."
Board President Larry A. Wittig suggested that misinformation about Rush is being promulgated by its advocates, as well as with statistics.
"All of you here feel Rush is the epitome and nirvana of academia, but it's not," said Wittig. "You may have a warm, fuzzy feeling about it because you are comfortable with it."
Wittig sampled the top 15 students in several grades and found that the distribution was fairly even between the schools. Grade six, for example, had six of the top 15 from West Penn, four from Tamaqua, three from Rush and two from St. Jerome Regional School. Eighth grade had six from West Penn, five from Tamaqua and four from Rush, while grade 11 had six from West Penn, five from Tamaqua and four from Rush.
Elko suggested that ratio of top 15 students from each school compared to their enrollments was in Rush's favor.
Wittig also examined 2009 PSSA scores for math and reading and noted that Tamaqua Elementary had about 48 percent of tested students as advanced or proficient, compared to 32 percent for West Penn and 16 percent for Rush.
"Rush is an excellent school, but it might not be the Shangri-La you think it is," said Wittig.
There was much discussion about the effect moving federal Title I programs for special needs students would have for Rush, which has a small number of such students. Makuta said special needs students will be placed in programs that are right for them.
Kyra Munoz, Hometown, said she had one son attend Rush and one attend Tamaqua Elementary, and both are honor students. She noted both schools provided positive educational experiences.
"It's all about what you make it." stated Munoz.
Makuta said she will distribute the survey to students of both schools, put the deadline on it, and report the findings to the board. Action would be needed by the board before the move could be made for next school year.
"We want to provide people with the information so that they will know in June what to expect in August," she added.