TPSD OKs merger of Church Street, Carver elementaries

By Chris Kieffer/NEMS Daily Journal

TUPELO – The historic Church Street Elementary School will not be used for classes next year.
The Tupelo school board approved on Tuesday a plan that will reorganize Church Street and Carver Elementary schools, the district’s two smallest schools and those with its greatest socioeconomic imbalance.
Both schools are for students in kindergarten through second grade. Next year, students will be combined and located on Carver’s campus. The district will continue to use the Church Street facility, although it has not yet determined what that use will be.
“I know no one wants to see it vacant, we don’t anticipate it being vacant,” Superintendent Randy Shaver said.
Combining the two schools makes for a much stronger school, Shaver said.
Both schools currently feed students to Lawhon Elementary for third to fifth grade. It is Tupelo’s only attendance zone with two K-2 schools feeding the same 3-5 school.
Under the reorganization of Church Street and Carver, the combined attendance zones of the two schools remain unchanged and no other zones are affected.
Tupelo Schools Chief Operating Officer Billy Crews presented the reorganization at Tuesday’s regular school board meeting. Crews said the decision was driven by parent feedback on the challenges of having schools of that size.
Church Street currently has about 255 students, and Carver has about 185. Combined, their 440-student enrollment will be roughly the same as each of the district’s other three K-2 schools.
The schools are also unbalanced demographically. Carver has the district’s smallest percentage of students who receive federal meal subsidies (56 percent) and Church Street has the largest (71 percent). The district feared the imbalance could cause it to lose some of its Title 1 federal funding, which goes to schools with high percentages of students receiving reduced meal subsidies but also requires comparable funding between schools. The district receives $2 million in Title 1 funding, and $11 million in federal funding.
Superintendent Randy Shaver said that balancing the socioeconomic situation was also “the right thing to do.”
“We need the student body at each school to reflect the entire school system,” he said.
Combined, the two schools will have 65 percent of students receiving federal meal subsidies, which go to those meeting certain low-income guidelines. That percentage will nearly reflect the rest of the district.
The merged K-2 school will be located at Carver rather than Church Street because there is more space there. It will need about five temporary classrooms that will be located in trailers, Crews said.
Those five classrooms will cost about $100,000 a year. Merging the two schools will result in a personnel reduction of 12.5 positions, Crews said, which is projected to save the district $300,000 a year and $555,000 over three years.
Those reduced positions include administrators, counselors and cafeteria staff.
The reorganization is a temporary solution, Crews said, noting a long-range plan will be needed beyond the next three years.
The schools are two of the most historic in the district, and both were opened in 1938.
Church Street replaced Tupelo Primary School after the 1936 tornado. A model of the school, which was built by the Works Progress Administration, was displayed at the 1939 New York World’s Fair as an example of an ideal elementary school. The school was closed in 1967, but reopened in 1970.
Carver served as the high school for Tupelo’s black community until integration during the late 1960s.
Contact Chris Kieffer at (662) 678-1590 or chris.kieffer@journalinc.com.