Katie Walsh grew up in Hollywood and attended Hollywood School. Her late mother, Karen Bettin, was a Hollywood PTA president.
So, when she and her Irish-born husband, Brian, bought a home in Hollywood four years ago, they just assumed that their daughter, Ruby, would also attend Hollywood School.
A few weeks ago, however, the Walsh family received a letter informing them that Ruby had been assigned to attend kindergarten at Central School in Riverside.
They were bitterly disappointed. A couple of other Hollywood families also were also notified that their incoming kindergarten students were assigned to Central School in what is an attempt by Riverside Elementary School District 96 to adhere to its class-size policies.
The Walshes, the Troyer family and at least one other Hollywood family have formally requested that their children be transferred to Hollywood so that they can attend their neighborhood school.
Walsh and Abby Troyer emotionally pleaded their case during the public comment portion of last week’s meeting of the District 96 Board of Education.
Walsh said that her daughter Ruby attends a home-based day care where all the other children attend Hollywood School and has already attended many Hollywood School functions.
“She’s been waiting patiently, or impatiently, for her turn to be a true Hollywood student,” Walsh said. She will not understand the reasons why. She will only feel rejected and left out.”
Walsh and Abby Troyer told the school board and District 96 Superintendent Martha Ryan-Toye that they had been counting on their children attending Hollywood School and that they do not want their children to have to cross First Avenue to attend Central, a common refrain from Hollywood parents over the years.
“I understand there are crossing guards, but there is a significant difference between kids crossing busy neighborhood streets and crossing a four-lane highway during rush hour,” Troyer said.
Both Walsh and Troyer said that they bought houses in the Hollywood neighborhood with the expectation that their children would attend Hollywood School.
“It is one of the reasons we chose to live where we do and we want to attend it,” said Troyer.
This has been a recurring issue over the years for Hollywood families as the district tries to balance having neighborhood schools with the desire to maintain its class-size policy and equalize class size throughout the district.
The district’s policy calls for kindergarten through second-grade classes to have no more than 20 students, although that policy has been routinely waived in recent years. As of mid-July, 21 students have been assigned to attend kindergarten at Hollywood.
Ryan-Toye declined to say how many incoming kindergarten students from the Hollywood neighborhood have been assigned to Central School this year, but said that the number could be counted on one hand.
She said that at least one other family, in addition to Walsh and Troyer have formally requested that their child be transferred to Hollywood.
The superintendent has the sole discretion to approve or reject transfer requests, and Ryan-Toye said that she hopes to rule on the transfer requests by the end of July. Ryan-Toye said that at least one other Hollywood family is happy to send their incoming kindergarten student to Central.
As of July 18, a total of 50 kindergarten students have been assigned to the three kindergarten sections at Central meaning, as of now, no kindergarten class at Central will have more than 17 students.
The third- and fourth-grade classes at Hollywood School, a single section school, will have 25 students each this year while the first-, second- and fifth-grade classes at Hollywood will have 22 students each this year.
Ryan-Toye is becoming aware of the recurring challenge of balancing the desire of Hollywood parents to send their kids to Hollywood School and the goal of having relatively equal class sizes across the district’s schools.
“We’re challenged by the size of the school, and how do we balance that that in combination with all of the District 96 schools and class sizes?” Ryan-Toye said.
Ryan-Toye is learning about the concerns of Hollywood parents.
“It is clear to me that it is a unique and special place,” Ryan-Toye said. “I continue to hear and I continue to learn more about the uniqueness of the Hollywood community.”
Board members are aware of the complexities of student assignment and understand the desire of Hollywood parents not to send their elementary school students across First Avenue.
“Going forward some of our decision-making and our policies need to be reflective of the uniqueness of each place,” said board member Lynda Murphy. “It really is a difference living across First Avenue than moving from Blythe to Central.”