Jeffco recommends closing 16 elementary schools

Each of the schools listed on Wednesday has fewer than 220 students, excluding preschool, or uses less than 45% of the capacity of its building. And each of them is located within 3.5 miles of another school with the ability to absorb their students and still feed into the same middle and high schools.

So, with each school proposed for closure, the district has named a nearby school that will absorb the border area and students from the closed school. In some cases, a third school will accommodate displaced students from programs for children with specific disabilities. In total, the closures will directly affect 38 schools, or nearly half of the 84 elementary schools operated by the district.

On the personnel side, the district will help place non-probationary teachers and offer assistance to all others. For certified staff, the district is also offering to pay for them to earn endorsements in hard-to-staff areas to make them more competitive for positions the following school year.

As before, parents can request to enroll their children in schools other than their assigned one.

District leaders want disillusioned families to view the transition as an opportunity for school communities to reshape host schools to welcome new students and serve them and their families.

If the school board approves the closures, the district will form committees at each school to hear ideas from families and staff.

In the case of Emory Elementary, the principal has already pushed for its bilingual program to be transferred to Lasley, which absorbs Emory students, although the type of bilingual model may change.

Even if approved, school closures leave the district with 16 schools of less than 250 students or less than 60% of a building in service in 2023-24. This is a third of the current number of schools that meet these criteria.

The district expects savings of up to $12 million could help reduce its budget deficit. This year, the district is drawing $28 million from its reserves to cover its expenses.

The district used $16.3 million of its 2018 bond to modernize schools now flagged for closure, but more recently put on hold $12.2 million in planned projects for small schools.

District says small schools affect learning opportunities

Still, district leaders stressed that the closures are not just about money, but about the quality of learning.

“We knew we were spending more money supporting our smaller schools, but the amount of money isn’t leading to stronger programming,” Dorland said.

Lisa Mahannah, principal of Emory Elementary School, said the recommendation to close her school didn’t surprise her, but it was still hard to hear. The district has appointed principals who will lead the host schools. In Emory’s case, Mahannah’s vice principal will move with the students, but Mahannah will not.

Still, she said she had time to speak her mind and knew the district didn’t make these decisions lightly, so she was focused on helping her families understand. She is also the parent of a local high school student.

“It impacts everyone,” Mahannah said.

At Emory, with declining enrollment, she cannot provide everything her students need.

The school has bilingual programming students and English programming students. But Mahannah said the school was unable to pay for bilingual mental health or special education staff.

“Budget really determines how much support you’re going to provide to students,” Mahannah said.

And as bilingual enrollment has declined, classes split between two teachers per grade level have become smaller, while non-bilingual classes can have up to 30 students.

Emory has about 385 students on a former college campus that can accommodate nearly 900 students.

Now, she plans to work the school year with Lauren LeMarinel, principal of Lasley Elementary, to plan how the merged campuses can serve students.

Lasley, about a mile from Emory, has about 291 students and uses about half of its school building.

As enrollment at Lasley has declined, LeMarinel said, there have been fewer resources for students. Lasley shares art, music, and physical education teachers with three other schools. And this year, Lasley lost his after-school care program run by the Boys & Girls Club, which needed more students to support its work. The group decided to operate out of only one school, Emory, in the area.

LeMarinel and Mahannah plan to ask if Lasley can bus students to Emory to participate in after-school programming, as the two schools work to merge their student support. They also plan to find ways to share other partnerships.

“We will do our best to make sure our community understands and that we grow together as one,” LeMarinel said.

Enrollment was a priority when Dorland took the job

A year and a half ago, Dorland had little time to adjust to his job. Table approved his contract in the same meeting just after discuss an emergency measure to close Allendale with little notice, as its dwindling student population made the school unsustainable.

Dorland immediately began looking into registrations and other issues behind the abrupt closings.

“I was extremely worried and shocked,” Dorland said. “I knew we had problems. I had no idea of ​​the extent of the problem. »

Since 2017-18, total enrollment in the district has dropped more than 8% to about 78,473 last year. In district-run schools alone, the decline was faster, about 11 percent. From 2019 to present, the district estimates it has lost approximately 5,000 students.

While families sending their children to charter schools or other districts may play a small role, the primary driver of declining enrollment is the county’s declining number of school-aged children and declining of the birth rate.

“We are very concerned that if we don’t act on this scale, we run the risk of having emergency closures within the next two years,” Dorland said. “It also leaves small school communities in a place of fear and anxiety wondering if they are going to be next. We must not be in a place of fear and anxiety.

Dorland wants the district to address enrollment challenges so schools can focus on accelerating student learning and have more resources to do so.

Next steps include review of secondary schools

After the November vote, the district will begin reviewing high school enrollment and capacity, and may identify some to close in future years. The district is also working to reevaluate the formula it uses to fund schools. Leaders want to hire experts to examine attendance limits and eating patterns from elementary through middle and high schools.

Staff, like Jeffco families, have experienced school closures in the past.

At Arvada, Principal Lara Wiant offered ideas on integrating campuses. His school, Campbell, recently took in students from Allendale and Fitzmorris when those schools closed.

She created a student ambassador program pairing each new student with a Campbell classmate who would offer a tour of the school, advice on who to contact for help, and who could sit down. with them during lunch.

Tara Peña, the district’s Home, School and Community Partnerships Manager, was vice principal of a school in Arvada that closed in 2010. She learned of her school’s closure at the same council meeting when her students and their families heard the news.

She keeps this bad experience in mind as she helps the district shape its engagement and communication with affected families and staff. This year, principals got the news a few days before everyone else, and instructional superintendents are helping them prepare to support students and staff as they hear the news.

Mahannah said that as principal she first and foremost wants parents to know that despite everything, her teachers are already working hard with students two weeks into the school year, and that is not going to change. Just as most teachers overcame the difficulties of the pandemic, now they will too, she said.

“We’re going to go through a grieving process, but we’re going to show up every day,” Mahannah said. “Our teachers are amazing. They will show themselves.

Yesenia Robles is a reporter for Chalkbeat Colorado, covering K-12 school districts and multilingual education. Contact Yesenia at [email protected].

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