Putting the campus of Greenville Elementary School to use as a pre-kindergarten/Head Start facility or as an alternative school were among the suggestions made at a Monday evening meeting in the school cafeteria.
Pine Bluff School District Superintendent Linda Watson set up the meeting to gather community input on the best use for the buildings in the wake of the March vote by the PBSD Board of Directors to close the school at the end of the current academic year. The closure decision was in response to a continuing drop in district enrollment and revenue.
“We received several requests for this meeting so we set it up,” Watson said. “If the public doesn’t have something in mind we have a couple of ideas.”
Watson asked the approximately 25 attendees who were scattered around the room to come closer to the front because of the group’s small number.
“Well, we’re going to do this just like in church,” Watson said. “You go ahead with who you’ve got.”
Watson’s request for comments did not produce immediate results.
“After our school board meeting at the [Pine Bluff High School] Little Theater two parents came to me to ask about moving the pre-kindergarten program to Greenville from its current location at Forest Park Elementary,” Watson said. “They said that the existing space is not big enough. We are also looking at space for the 4-year-olds who are in Head Start.”
Watson said that the district has already done a walk-through of the building to determine what would need to be done to convert it to a pre-K/Head Start center.
“I’m not ready to lease the building to an outside entity,” Watson said. “I had another school call and ask about leasing the building but I’m not about to bring a competitor onto this campus. We also had a church inquire about leasing the space but that is not something that we can do.”
A resident of the neighborhood suggested that an alternative school might be housed on the Greenville campus.
“An alternative school is a good idea but we would not house one on the same campus with a pre-K program,” Watson said. “Potentially we could have a full alternative learning environment program that would include not just programs for troubled students but also vocational and technical programs.”
Watson said the current pre-K program had 239 students as of October 1, 2012.
Fourth Ward Alderman Steven Mays was eager to ensure that the building would continue to be occupied.
“We have too much decline in the community,” Mays said. “I think it would be a good idea to use part of the space for a police substation. If we had nothing here we would end up with all of the windows broken out in no time.”
Watson responded favorably to the suggestion.
“A substation would be a plus for this neighborhood,” Watson said.
Watson said she was initially against any sort of summer program being hosted on the Greenville campus but a call from the Pine Bluff city government late last week changed her thinking.
“I had been turning down summer programs because I was concerned that they would get in the way of preparing the building for the fall,” Watson said. “But late last Friday the city said that they needed a place to host a summer program that was originally scheduled for Chester Hynes. I’m all about trying to get as many children into summer and after-school programs as possible.”
Watson said that she hoped to be able to present the school board with a recommendation on how the campus should be utilized by the May 20 board meeting.
“I am hoping to get a proposal together by then,” Watson said. “The board will hopefully be able to make a decision by the May board meeting.”