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Robberson Community School is set to close at the end of the academic year.
provided by Springfield Public Schools
Robberson Community School is set to close at the end of the academic year.

SPS board votes to close Robberson, Pershing elementary

Posted online

In back-to-back meetings last night, the Springfield Public Schools Board of Education voted unanimously to close Robberson Community School and the K-5 elementary section of Pershing School, a K-8 facility.

At the special meetings held at Kraft Administrative Center prior to the board's regular meeting on Tuesday, board members and district officials heard impassioned calls from residents to consider options other than closure. The meetings were livestreamed on SPS' YouTube page.

The staff recommendation before the board on Robberson was to close the elementary school at the end of the academic year, readjust boundaries and reassign its students to Boyd Elementary.

Kevin Huffman, retired principal at Robberson, told the board members that Robberson's wraparound services that include budget training and stress management initiatives for students and parents make the facility a true community school.

"Teachers don't want to leave Robberson. They want to get into Robberson," he said.

North Springfield Betterment Association President Jordan Cannefax spoke of the economic impact the 1100 E. Kearney St. school has on the north side of the city.

"This institution is a driving force in the economic vitality of north Springfield," Cannefax said. "The economic ripple effect will extend to businesses."

Parents of Robberson students spoke about the sense of community the school creates.

"Robberson is probably the best school that you have in Springfield," said parent Callie Coatney. "I'm a single parent with four kids, and if it wasn't for that school, I'd be out of a job.

"My kids have been to lots of schools here in Springfield, and none of them are like Robberson."

SPS’ Deputy Superintendent of Operations Travis Shaw told the board that the operational costs at Robberson are nearly $1.7 million. Robberson’s enrollment capacity of 343 students in grades K-5 is operating at 49%, with a forecast usage of 37% in 2028, according to past reporting.

Speaking before the vote, board member Kelly Byrne said the successes presented at Robberson are about the people there, not the building itself.

"I think that's true with all of our buildings across the district. It's about the people and not the buildings," he said, noting those experiences would be able to transfer with students to Boyd.

Board member Shurita Thomas-Tate agreed and also noted the cost of deferred maintenance at Robberson is too much for the district to bear.

"What I know now is that Robberson is a wonderful school with wonderful kids and wonderful teachers. It's a great community," Thomas-Tate said. "But it's about the people, and our teachers have the opportunity to move with their students."

After all board members voiced their reasons at the request of member Maryam Mohammadkhani, the vote was 7-0 in favor of closing Robberson and moving its students to Boyd.

A short break afterward, the board took up the Pershing issue. Shaw told board members the operating costs for the K-5 portion of Pershing are just under $1 million. The staff's recommendation was to close the K-5 portion and relocate students to Field and Wilder elementaries.

At a meeting earlier this month, Shaw said $50 million has been devoted in the bond issue to Pershing and that "we can get more bang for our buck" under the staff-recommended plan.

Parents who spoke last night said the district had not made a compelling argument for closing the K-5 portion of Pershing.

Among them was Jeff Houghton, who said the decision before the board was not a difficult one.

"You don't close a school that is efficient and thriving," he said. "We're talking about Pershing elementary, with a great legacy and even greater future that you get to make happen."

The speaker list also included Harper Thomason, a Pershing student of six years.

"This information about our school has gotten to the students and infuriates them," Thomason told the board. "I hope you can find it in your hearts that our one-hall elementary is worth it, that our teachers are worth it, that our current and future students are worth it, that Pershing is worth it."

With similar comments made about Robberson, Byrne said the people make Pershing great, not the building. He also said bond money would be better spent through the district's recommended plan.

"It's clear to me that it's not so much about the operating expenses; it's more about the bond," Byrne said, noting the long list of goals at Pershing would be best conquered as a 6-8 facility.

Board member Scott Crise, who appeared at the meeting via Zoom, agreed with the economic reasoning presented by Byrne.

"We need to make sure that the district is a good steward of the taxpayer's money," Crise said.

Board member Judy Brunner said she has experience as an administrator at Pershing and Wilder, and that she attended Field.

"I love those school communities," she said. "It is absolutely gut-wrenching. I know this is particularly tough and very emotional for the people involved.

"I think people are going to grieve the decision ... but I do think it's the right thing to do, to allow Pershing to be a 6-8 school."

The board's vote was 7-0 in favor of closing the K-5 elementary section of Pershing and moving those students to Field and Wilder elementaries.

Both closure decisions were considered in response to projections prepared by Davis Demographics, a division of Tampa, Florida-based MGT of America Consulting LLC, according to past reporting.

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