Battle over closing of E.O. Smith

June 13, 2009 4:43:30 PM PDT
A battle Saturday over a proposed school closure in HISD and now the school board's president is vowing to save a school that he voted to close just 24 hours earlier. Federal, state and community leaders are pressuring the district to keep the doors open. Just Friday, the board approved a plan to shut E.O. Smith Education Center. It would send students from the northeast Houston school to neighboring campuses.

The E.O. Smith Education Center is both an elementary school and a middle school in the Fifth Ward. Due to its high transfer rate, the board thought it could save some money by closing this campus and sending roughly 300 students elsewhere. That upset many in this community.

Brenda Martinez, 9, knows where she stands on the E.O. Smith Education Center.

"They shouldn't close it because this is a good school," said Brenda.

Members of the Texas Legislative Black Caucus don't seem to understand the logic behind closing the school either.

"What's going to happen to our community?" asked one member.

HISD has explained the decision was based on the school's consistently poor academic performance and declining enrollment.

Last year, 55% of students zoned to the elementary school opted to transfer out, giving Smith the highest transfer rate of any school in the district.

However, in a meeting at the Smith campus Saturday afternoon, caucus members asked HISD Board President Lawrence Marshall why the board let the school fail.

"Why do you keep sending inexperienced teachers to the schools that need the best help?" asked State Representative Barbara Caraway.

"The superintendent of schools has complete authority for all hiring, not the board of education," stated Marshall.

"Mr. Chairman, who hires the superintendant?" asked Caraway.

A heated exchange led Marshall to promise the school board would reconsider its decision to close Smith at its next board meeting with his recommendation that it stay open.

"We need to be big enough and bold enough to admit that there may be alternatives to decisions we've already made," said Marshall.

Now, Brenda's mother only hopes board members will give the school a fighting chance.

"Maybe they will put in more money, more funds. Maybe they will do something good," said Brenda's mother.

Community leaders named Mickey Leeland and George Foreman as former graduates of the school. Those same leaders said if the school disappears, new families will not move to the area, old families will move away, and the community as a whole will crumble.

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