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Pinewood School taken off choice school list

Rochester Public Schools' officials are backing off at least one element of their plan for expanding choice schools and programs across the district.

On Wednesday, staff at Pinewood Elementary School were told through an email from senior administrators that the school no longer was under consideration as a full choice school. The news, which quickly spread through the neighborhood school community in southeast Rochester, evoked cautious expressions of joy and relief from parents that it would remain a neighborhood school.

"I was pleasantly surprised to hear it," said Heather Nienow, a Pinewood parent. "I just wasn't expecting anything this soon."

The decision comes a week after the district floated a plan for a major expansion of choice offerings across the district. But even before the plan went public, Pinewood parents began voicing their opposition to the idea of converting the small, 258-student neighborhood school into a Montessori choice school.

Pinewood parents had been the first to voice their displeasure at a school board meeting. A petition against Pinewood's conversion gathered more more than 200 signatures and was presented to district officials on Tuesday, parents say. A banner strung on a guard rail across the street from Pinewood read, "Where is our 'Choice?' Keep Pinewood a Neighborhood School."


District spokeswoman Heather Nessler confirmed in an email the decision to retain Pinewood as a neighborhood school.

"The feedback that we received after the May 22 attendance area and design meeting (both online and during the meeting) showed an expressed interest in our neighborhood schools," Nessler said. "Therefore, we have simplified our choice schools design and will bring that proposal forward to the next public meeting on June 16. Pinewood will no longer be considered a full Montessori school."

Still, the preemptive news that Pinewood was off the table as a full choice school seemed to be a departure from the process described by the district. Officials always have stressed the critical importance that public input would play in designing Rochester's education plans. But they also indicated the latest iterations of those plans would be presented in public forums. Wednesday's preemptive announcement via email seemed an effort at mollifying a strong public reaction from one part of the district against the still-evolving plan.

Choice schools specialize in providing a unique curriculum, educational program or calendar and draw students from across the district. The original plan unveiled last week had Longfellow's 45-15 year-round schedule extended to Churchill-Hoover Elementary School; Washington's Core Knowledge program duplicated at Franklin; Gage's dual-language immersion program re-created at Bamber Valley; and Montessori programs installed at Pinewood and Sunset Terrace.

It remains unclear at this time how removing Pinewood from consideration as a full choice school alters the district's overall plans for choice programs. Is Pinewood now a candidate for a school-within-a-school Montessori program? Might a Montessori program be established in a different school?

District officials say the idea behind doubling choice offerings is to reduce the lengthy bus travel times many students endure to get to choice schools. Officials also want schools at the individual level to be more reflective of the district's racial and socio-economic makeup.

A new set of plans for choice offerings will be presented at what has been billed as the third and final meeting on June 16. It will take place from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. in the board room of the Edison Building, located 615 Seventh St. S.W.

Neinow said she was happy to hear about the district's decision to keep Pinewood a neighborhood school. But she considered any full-throated celebrations as premature until she learns more about the district's plans, which wouldn't take effect until fall 2015.


"I don't want people to get super excited and think it's over and done because we just don't know the whole picture yet, until we hit that meeting on the 16," Nienow said.

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