The [Asheville City Schools] school district has proposed to convert Hall Fletcher Elementary into a fourth-eighth grade STEAM school and Asheville City Preschool into a sister school for pre-K through third grade to accommodate for growing enrollment as soon as next school year.
Restructuring is not just a logistical matter of space, as Hall Fletcher is not just a building. Hall Fletcher is a garden, a work of art, a chessboard, a music hall, a work in progress. It’s a community. When I walk into that school as a teaching artist, every person I pass asks how I’m doing. The principal pauses from helping a student to thank me. I feel noticed and appreciated, and I see the students feel that and thrive in it.
Hall Fletcher has, by far, the highest percentage of students on free and reduced lunch in the district. The school has taken on various innovative programs to nurture students and lessen the achievement gap. Dividing the school as proposed would disrupt these programs and their long-term progress. As a further setback, NYU research shows that moving schools has long-term negative impact on students’ academic performance. And while classrooms can be replicated, that sense of community those students are thriving in is not so easily relocated.
The strength and heart of Hall Fletcher’s community could be seen at [last] Tuesday’s forum, as nearly 300 teachers, students, families, volunteers, neighbors and allies from other schools flooded the auditorium to support an undivided Hall Fletcher.
Other options for restructuring, which can be found under the ACS Restructuring Initiative at ashevillecityschools.net, also consider repurposing the Montford campus that previously housed the Randolph Learning Center. These options bring their own complications, and chair of the board Peggy Dalman claimed, “There is no one that rises to the top.”
It is not just the option but the process that the community is urging the board to reconsider. The process can better inform and involve the entire school district community. It can slow down, bringing in mobile classrooms if necessary or placing a moratorium on new out-of-district enrollment to allow more time for the restructuring process.
Hall Fletcher is making progress that, several years ago, no one thought possible. Rather than breaking that up, let’s include its innovative, out-of-the-box thinkers in finding a solution. Rather than setback, let this be an opportunity for progress for the whole school district.
The school board will hold another open meeting on Feb. 16.
— Laura Boffa