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Escuela SMART Academy to join Toledo Public Schools

By La Prensa Staff

Toledo’s only bilingual elementary charter school is about to become a public-school district academy. The Toledo Public Schools board of education formally agreed to take over Toledo SMART Bilingual School at a meeting held on Tuesday evening, April 23, 2019.

The charter school recently had begun marketing itself as Escuela SMART Elementary, a name change made over the winter. At the same time, school officials began looking for a new building to house the growing school, which was about to reach its maximum capacity of 250 students. But talks began in earnest with TPS officials in early March about a merger.

“This is definitely a win-win. When we first started, the whole purpose behind our school is because we knew Toledo needed this,” said principal Jessica Molina Kuhlman. “Toledo needed a school that served Spanish-speaking families. When we realized we weren’t going to be able to do that with the public-school system, we started our own school.

 


Jessica Molina Kuhlman

“We’ve been doing a great job the past five years—so much so that they’ve recognized the great work we’re doing with this population. They recognize they didn’t serve them that well. We needed a new building and TPS gets more resources than the typical charter school does. It’s a win-win.”

Principal Jessica Molina Kuhlman will remain in place, as will the administrative staff and teachers. But the charter school will become a magnet school, allowing TPS to recruit new students from outside the district. The school also will expand to include the sixth grade and a preschool. The school’s capacity also will increase by more than 100 students when classes resume in the fall. TPS will gain back some of the student population it had lost recently.

“We can move up to the sixth grade, which is something we’ve always wanted to do. We will be able to have two classes per grade level, which is exciting,” said Ms. Molina Kuhlman. “We will be able to have a preschool, which is something we haven’t been able to have in our building. We even have the potential of moving up to the seventh and eighth grade in the future.”

The bilingual school will relocate to what is now Westfield School, 617 Western Ave. That location currently services TPS special education students, who will move as district officials work on a separate partnership with a mental health agency. The official name of the new bilingual school will be Escuela SMART Academy at Westfield. 

“There were a couple of other buildings out there, but this was the best option,” she said. “The only question was how do we make it work? But we made it work. We’ll continue to recruit just as we do now. We’ll just have more space for more kids if they want to come.”

Parents of current students will have to re-enroll them because of the move to TPS, but that likely won’t be a problem. The staff ran out of more than 100 enrollment packets during a recent informational meeting held at Westfield School. The move to a new building also brings the school closer to the Broadway Corridor where most of its students and families currently reside.

There had been the potential for competition between two schools serving a similar population.

Latino leaders took it upon themselves to form what became Toledo SMART Bilingual School after failing to convince a prior TPS administrative team of the need. But since TPS adopted a transformation plan and Superintendent Romules Durant took the helm, school district officials have talked about the possibility of forming a bilingual school over the past few years.

“We thought ‘Why would you do that?’ Dr. Durant talked a little bit about how this is the best option for taxpayer dollars,” recalled Ms. Molina Kuhlman. “Why would you have two schools serving the same purpose. Why not just join forces and have one?”

According to Ms. Molina Kuhlman, the school takeover will occur rather rapidly. The TPS board of education officially will decide next steps at a special meeting Monday, April 29. The following day, the current school board will vote to relinquish the charter of Toledo SMART Bilingual School effective June 30, when the transition will be complete. A memorandum of understanding approved by both sides will seal the deal.

“I know that ODE’s (Ohio Dept. of Education) five-year plan talked about ESL (English as a Second Language) students and better serving ESL students. So with that coming out, TPS realized that they needed to do a better job of it,” said Ms. Molina Kuhlman. “So, it’s just all of these things coming together and people deciding to work together. We still get to maintain some autonomy and independence while joining TPS.”

Toledo is essentially the cradle of the charter school movement in Ohio, and, over time, many were set up to meet a need or fill an educational niche. The earliest—and now oldest—served the artistic community and autistic students. Public and charter school supporters have been at loggerheads for more than two decades—educationally, politically, and financially. Several such controversies over the years have made their way to the Ohio Statehouse seeking solutions.

So, this merger, in the long run, may be viewed as groundbreaking, perhaps revolutionary.

“This is the first example we can find of this, where a charter school would collaborate with a traditional public school in such a way,” noted Ms. Molina Kuhlman. “We believe we’re paving the way for some charter schools and some traditional public schools to collaborate just as we did. It is innovative, because normally charter schools and public schools are adversaries.

“They don’t work together. Charter schools are usually brought in for a specific purpose that didn’t favor the public schools. I think we’re really paving the way, making people realize that we’re in it for the kids and if it’s the best solution for the kids, that’s all that matters.”

Growth at the school won’t happen immediately. The principal emphasized the need “to grow responsibly” according to the school’s original plan, by adding one fifth and one sixth grade classroom each in the fall. That plan focuses on growing as the original students get older, because the school already has the oldest sibling in most of its Spanish-speaking families.

“I’m so excited. I think we’ve been working very hard just to prove how great of a school we are. We have the best families. They deserve it. We’re out of space where we are currently,” lamented Ms. Molina Kuhlman. “We don’t have a playground. We don’t have a gym. So that’s what really sparked our interest, especially in Westfield Elementary. It’s where we want to be.”
 

 

 

 
Copyright © 1989 to 2019 by [LaPrensa Publications Inc.]. All rights reserved.
Revised: 05/08/19 05:20:14 -0700.

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