Fresno Unified board likely to OK plan for students in southwest part of city

The Fresno BeeNovember 19, 2013 

Fresno Unified's school board is expected Wednesday to approve a plan that would send southwest Fresno students to a new middle school set for completion next summer instead of schools across town.

The proposal would require students enrolled at Addams, Columbia, King, Kirk and Lincoln elementary schools to attend the new Rutherford B. Gaston Middle School in southwest Fresno when they move on to seventh grade.

Students from those schools have been bused outside their neighborhood for years.

After Irwin Junior High School closed in 1979, hundreds of youngsters were forced to travel several miles each day to schools including Fort Miller, Scandinavian, Tioga and Wawona middle schools.

School board president Valerie Davis said the plan set for approval Wednesday is the last step needed to bring those students closer to home.

"This means we bring home 700-plus kids that we've been shotgunning to (other) middle schools," Davis said. "They will have a clear, concise feeder pattern like the other schools."

Construction on Gaston, located on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard and Church Avenue, is underway. District officials say it will open its doors for the 2014-15 school year.

But there are still details to iron out, said trustee Carol Mills, including how to provide transportation for kids who choose to stay at their current school. Seventh-graders who travel from southwest Fresno to other schools would have the option to attend eighth grade at either Gaston or the school they go to now, she said.

"Frankly, I think a large number of families are going to opt to go to Gaston for eighth grade," she said. "It's a brand new school which looks to have a very good program, and it's closer to home."

The boundary line plan would bring other changes.

About 80 incoming seventh- and eighth-graders at Lawless Elementary, a northwest Fresno school, will be redirected to Tenaya Middle.

District officials say they're reorganizing Lawless from a K-8 to K-6 school because it doesn't offer the same electives and after-school programs provided by other district middle schools. Tenaya will give students more opportunities, said Karin Temple, assistant superintendent for operational services.

Michelle Weldrick has a daughter in seventh grade at Lawless who will have to switch schools. But instead of Tenaya, Weldrick plans to drive her daughter to Wawona, a smaller central Fresno school about four miles from home.

That will be a change for Weldrick, who is used to walking her daughter down the block to school.

"We just thought she would be more comfortable in a small school," she said. "She already has academic problems and we were told there were over 800 students (at Tenaya)."

Students say they won't mind the shift, mostly because they know their friends are headed to Tenaya too.

"I'm not too worried," said 12-year-old Evelyn Magana, a Lawless seventh-grader.

If you go

What: Fresno Unified school board meeting

When: 5:30 p.m. Wednesday

Where: 2309 Tulare St., Board Room

The reporter can be reached at (559) 441-6412, or @hannahfurfaro on Twitter.

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