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Parents respond to plan to combine Mesita and Vilas

About 2 miles separate Mesita and Vilas elementary schools. But under a proposal by the El Paso Independent School District, the schools would be a lot closer.

The district wants to create the Mesita Early Childhood Center at Vilas. It would provide special early childhood labs and teaching interns for children in grades kindergarten through first grade. Second graders through fifth graders from both schools would go to Mesita.

The proposal comes as the district deals with campuses that are under capacity and are being considered for closure, including Vilas. Mesita, though, is near capacity with hundreds of children on a waiting list to attend the Westside school.

“My children needed the early childhood programs, speech developments,” said Keith Fong, a Mesita parent. “The fact that the services will be together will be awesome. Also, small children have different needs than the larger children. So I’m very positive about the proposal.”

The proposal would have to be approved by the EPISD board of managers. The two campuses would become a center for research in partnership with the University of Texas at El Paso. The Mesita campus system would become the site for professional learning and development for dual-language instruction. If approved, the merger would take effect at the start of the 2015-16 school year.

The result for the district is twofold: The students would be better balanced across the campuses, and it will be able to pilot new programs and partnerships with UTEP through the Vilas center.

Currently, Mesita is near capacity with 902 students and Vilas well under with only 250 students out of a 440 maximum. The plan would result in about 700 students at Mesita and about 400 at Vilas.

The new programs at Vilas would be a first for the district. UTEP students and faculty would have their own classrooms and instruction on-site and programs would include teaching Mandarin Chinese, which if successful would follow students as they move through the years.

“To start off with, Chinese will be offered in our pre-K and K, possibility of first (grade) depending on personnel,” said EPISD spokeswoman Melissa Martinez. “But every year we would add, again as those kids move up in grade levels, so would the Chinese programming.”

Martinez said that some upcoming deadlines made the district present the plan the way it did. Spring break is coming up before this will be voted on at the March 18 board of managers meeting.

But not all parents are on board with the two campus solution.

The district said the plan will keep both campuses well used without being overcrowded. But the way it was presented and other parts of the plan have some parents up in arms.

“We’re also discussing filing an injunction to prevent that from happening,” said Mesita parent David Rutledge.
Rutledge has a first grader at Mesita, and another child that will be starting pre-K next year. That would put his kids at two different campuses under this new plan.

“The biggest question I have is that’s going to be like herding a bunch of cats,” Rutledge said. “Who’s going to supervise these little children who are on the bus?”
The district said the plan was presented first to the parents Thursday to get the right info out ahead of spring break.

“It was just important for us to get this info out to the parents first before it went to the board so that they would know,” Martinez said. “They would have the information in hand, and have it accurately discussed and same thing for parents to know even before they read it in the media or on social media and have misinformation out there.”

Rutledge said that many parts of the plan like the busing and the young child programs don’t make sense.

“I think that’s great,” Rutledge said. “But I don’t see why they can’t do it at Mesita. It’s no further from UTEP than the other school and it’s basically a better situation.”

Martinez said the district will continue doing outreach to parents and going to PTA meetings ahead of the vote by the board of managers March 18.

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