Messages of Support

Dear valued board member,


I write to you as an APS parent. My daughter has attended the APS montessori program since mid way through her final year of PreK and into this current year as a first grader.


My feelings about my sons school have changed over time, but the culture at APS has always been the North Star standard that all schools should strive for. Not just the culture, but the building itself holds special value. The location, the grounds, and the large open classrooms are ideal for the montessori classroom setup. Moving the school and enmeshing it with the culture at a different school will erode the top notch culture and placement in smaller classrooms will not only make keeping covid precautions impossible for a classroom with 2-3 grade levels, but will also change the way the children and teachers have to utilize the space to the detriment of a montessori model where much class work is done hands- on, on mats on the floor, or spread out in different but simultaneous learning groups. Please note that I am in no way saying that the culture at hall fletcher is inadequate. My son attends HFE and we love it there too. But the cultures are quite different and it is evident in many aspects.


I’m sorely disappointed in how the move to sell the building has been handled with little to no forethought, parent/teacher feedback, and a complete lack of transparency, as well as a lot of waffling back and forth saying things were said and decisions were made that no one outside of the ACS BOE has ever been informed of. Leading me to distrust the ACS BOEs decision making almost entirely. I see closing the school under the current temperature of the parent and staff body as a damaging move with fallout that ACS and our community can’t afford . With teacher shortages at an all time low and Asheville teacher salaries among the lowest yet in a high cost of living area I honestly don’t see how the board can afford to make this decision. I have many teacher friends, and former teacher friends, and teacher friends on the verge of being former teachers. Pushing this button will likely only ensure one thing: irreparable damage to relationships with the people you need the most. I urge you to not push that button.


My husband and I and our families before us were raised in good public schools. We chose public schools even though we were accepted into private and charter schools. We believe strongly that our children should experience the diversity and real world dynamics that we feel only public schools can offer. We also chose public knowing schools receive state funding depending on how many children attend. We knew our Childrens’ enrollment in the public school system makes a difference so that is what we chose. But if funds aren’t being allocated in a way that benefits the most important staff and the children, and schools placed in strategic locations that serve minority populations are just going to be shut down, then how can I trust that my kids are getting what we signed them up for? Public schools are in a unique position to serve the larger community. Making decisions that erode the trust of the community is a failure that society at large really can’t afford right now. I see hasty decision after hasty decision as a brick-by-brick take down of our public school system.


I hope you’ll take my words into serious consideration when you vote on whether to close our very beloved Asheville Primary School.


Thank you for your time.

Sincerely,

Leilani Annand


Greetings, Families & Staff –

We are in unprecedented times in the history of Asheville City Schools. Yes, I saw the email from Principal Baggett's email address. She is in a tough spot and is beyond reproach.

At the moment, Asheville City Schools staff fear retaliation from the Superintendent and Central Office. At Central Office, there are actually staff assigned to monitor individuals' Facebook posts and print them out. Staff are under constant threat not to communicate candidly with parents or the public. It's a sad state of affairs.

You received an email from Principal Baggett that she did not write which referenced a short email that I wrote Thursday as your PTO president while sitting in a school board meeting looking at a slide that suggested closing and consolidating both Asheville Primary School and Montford North Star Academy by name. This singling out of APS and MNSA for consolidation was likely designed to pit us against the APS parents, but it is my hope that we stand with them instead.

ACS CFO Georgia Harvey suggested (in the same maskless breath) that Asheville Primary School and Montford North Star Academy be closed and consolidated to reduce costs, along with other suggested cuts. The Board did not take action on any of this at that meeting.

Context is key.

Due in part to the actions of the former Board Chair and current Superintendent, Asheville City Council declined to reappoint two eligible school board members this spring (an extremely unusual move) and the North Carolina General Assembly is now in the process of converting the ACS Board of Education to an all-elected, not appointed, Board which would be sworn in late next year.

In spite of there being no vote of the Board to do so, the Superintendent began the process of merging Asheville High School and SILSA last fall, starting with merging their administrative offices.

In spite of there being no vote of the Board to do so, and without following the state-mandated requirements for closing Asheville Primary School, the Superintendent and Deputy Superintendent decided that they can get around state prerequisites for school closings by simply moving all the classrooms out of the building, leaving APS off the Open Enrollment Period signup paperwork so no one new can enroll, and enrolling new pre-K students in unfunded classrooms that do not exist instead of the existing classrooms at Asheville Primary School, even though the new Board Chair has been very clear that this has not been authorized.

In spite of having no funding to "expand" preschools into new locations, and without Board approval, the Superintendent directed ACS Executive Director of Communications Ashley-Michelle Thublin to move ahead with press releases, social media, and videos saying that Asheville City Schools was going to carry out his plan to close Asheville Primary so he can claim we are expanding preschool into public housing. This was the day after ACS lost a $2.7 million three year grant it needed from the Buncombe County Early Childhood Education Fund because the "preschool expansion" actually resulted in a net loss of preschool slots and disrupted and displaced other existing preschool programs serving public housing communities.

Although the new Board Chair and new Vice Chair have repeatedly stated that the school board has not voted to close Asheville Primary School, the Superintendent continues to act as if they have.

Earlier this week, staff at APS were instructed to start dismantling the school library. They've been boxing up books to ship to other schools even though there are students in the building and the vote to close the school has not happened.

While I have no doubt that the current Board will not act any time soon to close Montford North Star Academy, the Superintendent and Deputy Superintendent have shown a willingness to ignore the Board and legal requirements.

This is why it is important for you to write the Board and ask them to stop these unauthorized actions.

Please consider requesting that the Board...

1. Declare a moratorium on school closures and consolidations for the next two school years,

2. Maintain all classrooms at Asheville Primary School at pre-Covid-19 levels at a minimum, and

3. Reopen the enrollment period for APS immediately for pre-K to 5th grade since the school was illegally omitted from the ACS Open Enrollment Period.

Yes: the Board has not voted to close Montford North Star Academy. Closing MNSA was "only" presented as an option along with a school that is currently being closed without Board approval, contrary to the laws of the State of North Carolina.

While I hope the newly constituted Board will "change direction" on Monday, now is the time to write the school board to express your opinion.

james.carter@acsgmail.net - (828) 301-2894

jackie.mchargue@acsgmail.net - (828) 450-2703

peyton.oconner@acsgmail.net - (828) 713-2083

martha.geitner@acsgmail.net - (828) 279-1197

shaunda.sandford@acsgmail.net - (828) 273-9445

Keep the faith, speak out if you are called to do so, and enjoy this beautiful weekend.

Yours in service,

Pepi Acebo, president

Montford North Star Academy PTO


Asheville Primary School has served as a center of the West Asheville community and education for nearly 70 years and is home to the District’s only 5--star public preschool and Montessori Program. The closure of the school being proposed by the Board will displace over 100 preschoolers while permanently reducing preschool enrollment in the District by over 90 slots by the most recent estimate. I strongly oppose the closure because I believe that the city needs to EXPAND early childhood education, not reduce it.


I have to date seen no plan for how ACS will achieve the County's goal of universal pre-k over the next 10 years. I have, however, seen numbers submitted to the North Carolina Department of Instruction indicating that ACS preschool enrolment will be reduced from 288 slots pre-Covid to 108 in 10 years, a reduction of over 60% in the District's preschool capacity. This is insulting and absurd.


Shuttering the 5-Star program at APS cannot be undone and will forfeit State and Federal funding for the Asheville Primary Principal and support staff and future funding from the Biden Stimulus Bill for a new HVAC system.


Expanding early childhood education will not be possible without preserving Asheville's stock of school buildings, including Asheville Primary. Spending nearly $3 million in a Buncombe County Early Childhood Grant that aims to expand early childhood education to achieve a drastic reduction in preschool classrooms is absurd and reckless. We need to be defending and expanding public pre-k, not reducing it.


Sincerely,


Brooke Heaton

WAVL

We are concerned about the decision to close Asheville Primary School and the Preschool Program. Making this decision during a pandemic is rushed and unfair. Please consider hitting “pause” on this decision in order to make the best decision possible for everyone - students, teachers, parents, and the community as a whole.


Charlie and Susan Muehl


I strongly oppose closing Asheville Primary School.

When my twins were barely 3, their dad and I put huge backpacks on their tiny backs and carried them into their new school, Asheville Primary. It was new to us and just plain new, as it was the first year the school began. They cried, I cried, it was hard! But what happened in the following days, months, and years has been nothing short of amazing.

My kids are nearing the end of their first grade year now, and they have grown with the school, in its peaceful, prepared environment. Even with the challenges of the past year of remote learning, they've had long-term relationships with their teachers and their peers in their multi-age classrooms. Just like every student at APS, they are known and valued. They have autonomy and an intrinsic sense of themselves as learners because of this school. And they have so many skills for living in community and respecting everyone's different experiences, abilities, and viewpoints. Academically, they are always working at their personal highest level because the Montessori approach is so individualized and tailored to meeting each child's needs and supporting each child's growth.

Since Fall 2020, when the closure of our building was first suggested to be an impending reality, APS families have been asking for dialogue. For space to hash out unintended consequences and attempt to mitigate them. To make this process, if it is necessary, as beneficial as possible for all involved.

I believe that ACS as a district is capable of facilitating this kind of engaging process because the Communications department did it with the task of renaming Vance to Lucy Herring. From my perspective as a community participant, that process seemed well-paced, deeply thoughtful, and inclusive. Why was the process so different for this huge change affecting over 250 Pre-K and elementary students?

Critical maintenance needs for the building are about $200,000. I ask that you spend this money and keep our Montessori and Preschool students in the building for at least one more year.

Use this year to undertake a truly collaborative process and make long-term plans, including strong, supported transitions to new locations for Montessori and PreK classrooms, educators, and students. And plan to include the voices of students, staff, and families at any school that might be asked to take in another school within its physical building and school community. This kind of change affects them, too.

If and when the time comes to make a move to another location, I ask that the Montessori school keep the school number and the state funding opportunities that come with it. SILSA is a school within a school, and APS can be, too.

I ask that we be allowed to remain at our current number of three Early Childhood Education classrooms (Mixed Age PK-3 through Kindergarten) instead of being reduced to only 2 and that new preschool students be allowed to enroll in Montessori Pre-K. The ECE students are the future of our school, and cutting that classroom will restrict our future success as a school, and will cause us to lose our most valuable resource--our educators.

I ask that in place of the one eliminated Lower Elementary (Grades 1-3) classroom, we open an Upper Elementary (Grades 4&5) classroom. We already have a teacher on staff certified for upper elementary, and we have a cohort of third-graders who could seamlessly move to fourth grade at APS instead of being made to choose other schools.

Board Members and Dr. Freeman, please take the time to look over the attached response to the Spring Study (bit.ly/ResponseToStudy). Once again, I hope you will see this response as it is intended--an invitation to dialogue among and between Montessori and Preschool families, prospective families, teachers, staff, school administrators, central office administrators, the board, and the superintendent, and other community members. We will make our best long-term decisions when we come together.

Let's take the time to discuss the differences in our understandings and clarify the numbers at play. Let's widen the circle to include meaningful participation by more stakeholders and come up with the best possible path forward for the long term. It will benefit our entire district, not just a few families.

Our ACS kids are worth it.

Thank you,

Lara Lustig

APS Parent

Board of Education:


I urge you to vote against closing Asheville Primary School, Asheville's only 5-Star public pre-school. APS serves a diverse student body and offers quality, unique learning options. Its beloved and highly successful Montessori and Pre-K programs should be expanded, not contracted as proposed by ACS leadership. Vote NO.


We need more Pre-K spaces and choices in Asheville, not fewer. There are woefully few full-day, affordable, high-quality Pre-K programs in Asheville, and even fewer offering income-based tuition or aftercare. Limited access to childcare burdens working parents and those struggling financially. Expanding pre-school promotes racial and economic equity and prepares the next generation for success. Research bears out that quality Pre-K improves lifelong learning, graduation rates, and health, and provides ROI for communities. Pre-school helps level the playing field for disadvantaged families. Yet closing APS would displace 100+ pre-schoolers and cut pre-school enrollment by 90+ slots. I can attest that demand for ACS Pre-K was high last year and enrollment was extremely competitive. Many schools moved to lottery enrollment because demand outpaced spaces. Some children could only enroll because COVID suddenly reduced demand, which had been growing year over year. APS has high demand to GROW its programs. Rubber stamping its closure could be the death knell for its growing Montessori program and would reduce educational choice and opportunity for Asheville families.




Buncombe County Commissioners have committed to moving toward universal access to Pre-K. Yet ACS projections submitted to the North Carolina Department of Instruction (attached) indicate that preschool enrollment will be cut from 288 pre-COVID slots to 108 in 10 years, a reduction of over 60%. WHY would you shut down APS' highly walkable, central campus that attracts students of all races, neighborhoods, and incomes? Some classes would be forced into other schools, effectively closing their existing (or pre-COVID) pre-school classes, while others would be set up anew at Housing Authority sites. We choose Asheville City Schools over private/charter partly because we value racial and economic diversity in the classroom. This new plan seems likely to worsen school segregation - is this 2021 or 1951?


Shuttering the 5-Star program at APS does not make financial sense. It would forfeit State and Federal funding for the APS Principal and support staff and disqualify it from Stimulus Bill funding for a new HVAC system. It's hard not to see closing APS as a prelude to selling off the campus - a shortsighted bandaid for ACS' financial difficulties. The building at 441 Haywood Rd. is in the heart of West Asheville, walkable, and accessible by public transportation. From a real estate perspective, it's irreplaceable. And if the building is repurposed as a storage facility, the money and time spent on prior renovations will be wasted.


Asheville families demand expanded access to public pre-school. The Buncombe Board of Commissioners has signed on. Thousands of Asheville residents have signed a petition opposing the closure of APS. While you are not elected (yet), you have a fiduciary duty to promote the interests of your constituents. Vote NO on closing APS.


Sincerely,

Christina Mason

West Asheville