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Rieke parents propose ideas to keep school open

Rieke is staying open and as more parents feel confident that the district won't shut down the thriving Hillsdale elementary school, the more the school will grow.

That's the conclusion Rieke parents have come to after surveying 599 neighbors and holding four focus groups. Rieke parents found the threat of closure was the number one obstacle keeping new families from joining the school.

Last spring when Superintendent Vicki Phillips proposed to close the school citing low enrollment, the school board voted to give the community time to craft a strategy on how they could grow the school. The results from the survey are just one part of their detailed growth and marketing plan turned into the district days before the Oct. 15 deadline.

'The key thing we found is that we have the population here in the neighborhood to grow the enrollment in a steady manner over the next few years,' Duley said. 'Now it's just letting people know that we're staying open.'

The 79-page proposal is still under review by the district, but the Rieke parents have been in communication with the board during the whole process and they feel confident they have answered most of their questions and concerns.

The proposal says that Rieke should increase enrollment by convincing private school and home-schooled students to switch to their neighborhood school. Rieke also plans to expand its kindergarten program, market the Hillsdale community so more families move in, and work with the neighborhood to increase the amount of family housing.

Next year they intend to expand from one full-day kindergarten class and one half-day, to two full-day classes. Holding kindergarten roundup early in the year on Dec. 8 is the first step toward enrolling enough students to fill two classes.

The group is also reaching out to preschool-age students. Many parents don't step inside their local school until their child's first day of kindergarten. Rieke is working to correct that and at the same time increase its enrollment by hosting preschool story times. The goal is to get parents and kids comfortable with the Rieke community before they even start school.

'It happens during the school day so you get to see what happens here and what the school is really like,' said Leanne Van Horn, a parent organizer of the story time.

At the monthly program the kids are read to by the school's librarian, they make crafts and they have a snack. While the children are in class, the parents take part in an education series learning about child development while meeting other parents at the same time.

If ideas like story time are successful in recruiting more kids, eventually the school will need more room to fit the influx of students. One argument parents repeatedly made to the district when the school was threatened was that Rieke is not under-enrolled, but instead a small successful school that thrives in a small facility. Yet to accommodate the district's desire to have 400 to 600 students per school, Rieke is looking at using a portable classroom until the building could be remodeled. Rieke parents included designs in their proposal on ways to improve the existing campus. The plan suggested that the school could become a multi-use facility, eliminating some of the financial pressure on the district and creating an opportunity for community partnerships.

Representatives from the neighborhood association and business association have been supportive about keeping Rieke open. One important argument for keeping Rieke open last spring was the importance of having a neighborhood school in a flourishing town center like Hillsdale.

If the proposal is accepted by the district, the school will add another kindergarten class and continue reaching out to the 25 percent of local students who are home-schooled or enrolled in private school. As of late October, Rieke had 287 students enrolled-20 more than last year according to the district's enrollment profile.

'We want to have slow and steady growth to maintain the quality of program we have now.' Duley said. '…Out main message is yes, we're open, we're growing and we're looking forward to the future.'