Petition:No change to Stewart - KYTX CBS 19 Tyler Longview News Weather Sports

Petition:No change to Stewart

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TYLER (TYLER MORNING TELEGRAPH) - A group of Tyler residents is circulating a petition to keep A.T. Stewart Middle School as is and not repurpose it as a specialized high school, which is Tyler ISD's plan.

Members of the school's concerned citizens group met Monday at Greater Shiloh Baptist Church to discuss the school district's bond proposal and the district's desegregation order.

TISD remains under a federal desegregation order that was enacted in 1970.

Although the district's $160.5 million bond proposal has no projects related to Stewart in it, if it passes, the district plans to convert Stewart to a high school of choice.

It would replace the district's existing PACE program and offer accelerated and specialized coursework designed for students seeking a nontraditional high school environment.

This plan is something that many in the Stewart community, including alumni of the school and parents with children who attend it, do not support. They said the school was successful and has shown academic gains over the past few years.
Furthermore, former Tyler city councilman Donald Sanders said the community lacks trust in the district.

The district originally planned to put PACE and Plyler Alternative School, the latter being TISD's disciplinary campus, at the repurposed Stewart.

Sanders said district officials only removed Plyler from the plan and came up with the proposed "A.T. Stewart Academy of Excellence" after community members expressed concerns.

"How do you make a decision like that overnight?" he said.

District spokeswoman Dawn Parnell said TISD has and is seeking input from the community about the future plans for Stewart. She said the idea for turning the campus into A.T. Stewart Academy of Excellence is a proposal and the district will consider the needs of Stewart and its community as it formalizes plans.

Sanders pointed out specific incidents in which the black community lost its neighborhood schools — when the district made the St. Louis School into a school for students with special needs (it now is a Head Start campus) and when Emmett J. Scott High School was closed in 1970.

"This is what we've had to go through for the advancement and technology of our school district," he said. "Our communities have to sacrifice."

Former Smith County commissioner Andrew Melontree provided the history that led to the enactment of a desegregation order in TISD. He said the school district has no intention of conforming to the order enacted by the late Judge William Wayne Justice in 1970 as long as it maintains a two high school system.

"They're tremendously different in opportunity and quality of education and this is the very thing that was taken care of in Brown v. Board of Education," Melontree said.

Melontree said if the board was serious about conforming to the desegregation order, it would have included a project in this bond proposal to create one high school.

"There is nothing in this bond proposal that would suggest that TISD has a serious notion to conform ... to (the) law," he said. "They think the only thing that's important at JT is Friday night lights."

District spokeswoman Dawn Parnell said the "district works very diligently to provide the same opportunities to all Tyler ISD."

Registered nurse Pat Branham, 45, mother of three TISD students, was among those in attendance. Ms. Branham stood up during the meeting and urged the people to mobilize their community.

"We need just as much fervor about this bond election as we did about the president of the United States," she said. "If we're that serious about it, we've got to get moving."

JoAnn Fleming, executive director of Grassroots America — We the People and a leader of the No More Excuses, Tyler ISD! Coalition, said the community has to stop pretending they've solved all the academic problems in the district and start addressing them.

"I support safe, functional, nice schools for teachers to teach in and students to learn in," she said.

What she doesn't support, she said, is building new buildings and putting old problems in them.

Sanders said the meeting went well and informed the public.

"We're not only (interested) in issues concerning the school or bond, but any issues coming up in the city," Sanders said. "We want to be a part of the city. We know the best to do that is to go to meetings."


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