Columbia Academy was first district school to make dress code change
The Columbia Heights School Board on Jan. 22 unanimously approved mandatory uniforms for Valley View Elementary, with implementation beginning at the start of the 2013-14 school year.
Valley View Principal Willie Fort first presented the idea of uniforms during the Nov. 27 School Board meeting. He said the idea was discussed during a question-and-answer session last April with 42 parents who had graduated from the REACH (Realizing Educational Achievement at Columbia Heights) program. The program includes seven weeks of classes that focus on what parents can do to make sure their children are ready for college.
Fort said that Valley View parents brought up the idea of uniforms and told him they respect and value the diversity of the school, but uniforms celebrate likeness and unity. Some parents said uniforms have been requested at Valley View for almost 10 years.
Fort told parents the choice to implement uniforms would be made by the School Board.
In August, a paper survey was given to staff that asked if they would be in favor of uniforms for staff and students, in favor of uniforms for students only, or not in favor of uniforms for students. The majority of staff expressed interest in student uniforms. A minimal number of responses were in favor of uniforms for both staff and students.
During an open house at the end of August, parents were given a paper survey offered in both English and Spanish that asked if Valley View should or should not adopt a uniform policy for students. About 90 percent of the 401 families responded to the survey, with 64 percent of families in favor of uniforms.
A total of 14 parents attended the Dec. 13 PTO meeting during which Sue Hansen, owner of Embroidery and More, presented examples of Columbia Academy uniforms, which were implemented at the middle school at the start of the 2011-12 school year.
No parents spoke in opposition of Valley View uniforms on Dec. 13. They filled out a survey that asked which color(s) and style of tops should be offered, what color(s) and style of bottoms should be offered, which colors should students be allowed to layer clothing with, and which colors should students be allowed to wear for head coverings for religious reasons.
The possibility of uniforms at Valley View was again discussed during a Jan. 17 School Board work session.
Fort said a proposal is for the uniform tops to be royal blue, which would differentiate Valley View from the middle school.
Another proposal is for Valley View fifth-graders to wear uniforms with the Columbia Academy logo, which would reduce the cost for parents when their children move onto the middle school.
“I’m excited about this,” said Board member Laura Palmer. “I think it provides a sense of unity and school identity.”
She added that she’s heard from a couple parents who are disappointed that uniforms are not being considered for all three elementary schools.
Supt. Kathy Kelly said each school has its own climate and culture, and there’s “not much of an appetite” right now for uniforms at Highland or North Park elementary schools.
Board member Scott Bardell asked how Fort and Valley View Dean Tara Thukral feel about uniforms at the school.
Fort said he has not been advocating for or against uniforms and that parents are advocating for their children. He added that he would be comfortable with the dress code change at Valley View and that he wore a uniform growing up.
“I support the voice of the parents and what they want,” Thukral said.
During the Communication to the Board portion of the Jan. 22 School Board meeting, Jen Heveron said she grew up in Columbia Heights and that there has always been competition among the three elementary schools. Uniforms at Valley View would make the school even more different.
As an education assistant at North Park, Heveron said she sees kids go through lots of extra clothes at school if a student has an accident or gets dirty or wet during recess, for example. She questioned who would be supplying the extra clothes.
Heveron said that at the beginning of the school year, the uniforms look good, but they become tattered as the year goes on, and the gold shirts turn a greenish color.
She questioned why Valley View staff aren’t going to wear uniforms.
“I think the middle school kids right now really respect the principal and the teachers that actually wear the school uniform,” Heveron said.
Another point she made is that uniforms at the elementary level could be problematic if boundaries were to change for the elementary schools.
Heveron, who lives in Brooklyn Center, is an open enrollment parent and said she continues to be active within the Columbia Heights community. She has a third-grader, a fifth-grader, an eighth-grader and a 10th-grader who attend District 13 schools.
“If they go to school uniforms, my kid will probably go to one of the other elementary schools, unless my kid can wear Columbia Academy clothes, because God knows I have a lot of them.”
Kathy TwoBears, a parent who has five children attending Columbia Heights Schools, also spoke at the Jan. 22 meeting.
“I know for my family, I was really worried about uniforms [at Columbia Academy],” she said. “I was really stressed about the expense.”
TwoBears said the middle school has a program that enables parents to buy used uniforms, which could be implemented at Valley View.
“I got my son a ton of outfits for $20,” she said. “I’m all for uniforms. I think it’s going to be so much easier for me as a family to get them up and ready to go [in the mornings].”
Stephanie Kilpatrick Guerrero, a District 13 teacher for seven years, has two children who attend Valley View Elementary.
“It’s been really exciting to see this initiative take place coming from the mouths of parents,” she said. “Ever since I’ve been in the district, it’s been a hot topic,” she said of uniforms at Valley View, telling the board it’s been brought up at parent-teacher conferences and other school events.
Kilpatrick Guerrero taught for a year and a half at Columbia Academy, and she said she saw how uniforms united staff and students and really made a positive change in the climate in the building.
She told the board that she gets up at 5:30 a.m. to leave for school at 6:30 a.m.
“I would love to have one less argument at that time in the morning,” she said.
The School Board unanimously approved the resolution for uniforms at Valley View.
School Board member Ted Landwehr pointed out that if uniforms are an issue for parents, there is flexibility within the school district for kids to move to other schools.
“Hopefully [uniforms] will be a plus for Valley View,” he added.
Board member Palmer said she thinks that uniforms at the school will be a draw for parents.
At a recent kindergarten night at Valley View, Fort said he mentioned that uniforms were being proposed. He told the board that last year, 32 parents signed up to enroll their children in kindergarten, and 35 parents signed up this year to enroll their children in kindergarten.
“It didn’t seem to be an issue for parents who were there that night,” he said of the uniform proposal.
Regarding the upcoming timeline, Valley View students are scheduled to decide on a uniform logo design by Feb. 1, the uniform advisory committee will meet Feb. 4-8, and a parent meeting planned for March 14 will involve making final decisions, discussing a communications plan and sharing the school uniform policy.
Valley View households are scheduled to be informed on March 17 about the uniform details via phone calls, fliers, email and the school website. Uniforms will be available for purchase during the April 12 school carnival, the May 17 school picnic and the Aug. 29 open house from 4-6 p.m.
The school uniform policy will take effect Sept. 3.
Contact Kassie Petermann at [email protected]