Future of Oscar Patterson Elementary uncertain, final decision yet to be made

PANAMA CITY, Fla. (WJHG/WECP) - The clock is ticking to make a decision regarding Oscar Patterson Elementary in Panama City.

"I know we're running out of time and they're going to expect a decision from us shortly," Gena Burgans, Assistant Superintendent of Teaching and Learning for Bay District Schools, said.

The Oscar Patterson Oversight Committee held a meeting open to the public and representation from the Florida Department of Education to address Patterson's low student performance Thursday.

"This is the very first time that anyone across the state is implementing this new statutory language," Burgans said.

She explained how this is unprecedented as Patterson is 1 of 37 schools to have conversations surrounding school performance.

In October, the Florida DOE contacted Bay District Schools Superintendent Bill Husfelt to give him three options on what the district could do with Oscar Patterson.

"We actually received a letter from DOE in mid-October giving the Superintendent three options in regards to Patterson Elementary School and we had a due date actually of the end of October and the Superintendent reached out to Chancellor and requested an extension on submitting that information to DOE until he had time to gather some community input," Burgans explained.

The options were:
- Close the school, transfer the students to a higher performing school(s) and monitor the students for a three-year period.

- Close the school and reopen the school as one or more charter schools, with a governing board that has a demonstrated record of effectiveness.

- Contract with an outside entity that has a demonstrated record of effectiveness to operate the school. This may include a district-managed charter school in which all instructional personnel are not employees of the school district, but are employees of an independent governing board comprised of members who did not participate in the review or approval of the charter.

According to Burgans, these options came about from House Bill 7069, a education bill that Bay District Schools is in a lawsuit against.

Those who voted on a recommendation ultimately selected to contract the school with an outside entity that has demonstrated a record of effectiveness.

What does Option Three mean for faculty?

"The language is very clear that it says, 'instructional personnel may not be employees of the school district, but are employees of an independent governing board'," Burgans said.

As for students and the community, Principal Darnita Rivers believes the change could be detrimental.

"I think that, to those who hold dear Oscar Patterson and see it as essentially the last historic school on the block that has not been re-purposed or renovated, that it would definitely be saddening for them," Rivers said.

She is more focused on improving student performance rather than dwell on the what-ifs.

"My goal is to keep the staff and the students focused on the work at hand and that is to make the learning gains and the increases in the school grade that I know that they can make in order that we may accomplish that 'C'," Rivers said.

Rivers is looking to implement a tutoring program as well as potentially start Saturday school to improve performance.

She also said the options could become null and void if the school earns a 'C' at the end of the school year.