Schooling officials

Reps. Jennings, Cretul tour schools


Principal Sharon Miller, center, gives Alachua County School Board chairwoman Barbara Sharpe and state Rep. Ed Jennings Jr. a tour of one of Prairie View Elementary School's computer labs on Monday.

ARIANE WILTSE/Special to The Sun
Published: Tuesday, January 27, 2004 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, January 27, 2004 at 1:07 a.m.

An artist, a football player, a lawyer, a nurse, a pediatrician, a paleontologist and a veterinarian.

Those were just some of the answers a state lawmaker received Monday when he asked Prairie View Elementary students what they want to be when they grow up.

State Rep. Ed Jennings Jr., D-Gainesville, posed the question to children as he visited the southeast Gainesville school as part of "Take Your Legislator to School Day." Also Monday, state Rep. Larry Cretul, R-Ocala, visited Mebane Middle School in Alachua.

The Florida School Boards Association initiated the statewide event, and two Alachua County School Board members accompanied the lawmakers on their visits.

At Prairie View, the topic of the school's future was hard to ignore even as Jennings encouraged students that "education is the best thing for achieving all their goals and dreams."

On Dec. 2, the School Board adopted a school attendance rezoning plan that did not assign any students to attend the school beginning this August.

The school's staff, students, parents and much of the community all interpreted that decision to mean that Prairie View effectively would be closed.

"I have a lot of friends here, and the teachers are nice," fourth-grader Bethany Dillon, 9, told Jennings. "The bad thing is the school is closing."

But the legislator quickly replied, "That's not done yet."

Jennings later explained, "This is only January, the School Board can rethink (its) decision."

He said he plans to assist the school by gathering support for it among "like-minded" business and community leaders.

"I'm not sure they get a sense of how important Prairie View is to the entire Alachua County community," he said.

"This facility looks excellent," he added. "It's not like we have a school that is dilapidated."

School staff said they appreciated Jennings' visit and any support he could give.

"This is my 30th year here, and I enjoy every single day," fifth-grade teacher Flo Bryant told Jennings. "I want you to do everything you can to keep this school open."

Special education teacher Lisa Lytton said the mood at the school has been uncertain since last year.

"Everybody's in limbo," she said. "Nobody knows where they're going to be next year."

The Alachua County School Board is scheduled to discuss Prairie View's future at its Feb. 3 meeting. If enough of the existing Prairie View parents show interest, school district leaders say they would consider providing transportation for any students who wish to remain at the school next year.

Cretul's visit

On the other side of the county, Cretul discussed the relationship between state and local government with students and staff at Mebane Middle School.

"I told them there may be some discussion about putting the (class-size reduction) amendment on the ballot" again in November, Cretul said of the upcoming legislative session that begins in March.

Republican lawmakers, who control both houses of the Legislature, have said the longer-term requirement of the amendment is too costly. The plan is to ask voters to partially repeal the amendment, perhaps in exchange for a promise to increase teacher pay statewide, Cretul said.

Cretul also said he was impressed with the middle school students' behavior during classes and engagement in teachers' lessons.

Cretul said "Take Your Legislator to School Day" is useful because sometimes lawmakers who work in Tallahassee may get disconnected from the governing bodies that operate at the local level, including school boards.

"We're all in the same boat, we just have different paddles," he said.

Douane D. James can be reached at 374-5087 or jamesd@gvillesun.com.

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