School citizens asked to ‘put on district hat’
Attendees are being asked to put on their “district hat” instead of the “hat” for the school(s) they like during a series of District 11 public-input meetings this month on
future educational changes.
This request by consultant John Kerr was made at the first such meeting (Jan. 6 at Mitchell High) prior to separating more than 100 citizens into randomly formed subgroups of 10 or fewer and asking each of these to respond to some 20 questions - including ones about which schools ought to be closed.
This subgroup approach will continue to be used through the meeting Jan. 8 at Coronado High School and probably the others in the series Jan. 12 at Hillside Community Center; Jan. 13 at Palmer High, Jan. 15 at Doherty High and Jan. 20 at Wasson High, District 11 spokesperson Elaine Naleski said after the Mitchell event. All the sessions will be from 6:30 to 9 p.m., and people can attend as many as they like.
The goal, according to D-11 Deputy Superintendent Mike Poore, is to gather as many good ideas as possible to make the district more cost-efficient while retaining a scholarly edge (test score improvements in recent years) and to offer an appealing option to parents with school-age kids inside and outside the district.
As a result, people attending the Mitchell meeting did not get a chance to talk in front of the assemblage - just to express ideas within whatever subgroup they were part of. The idea,” Poore said, is to “help us prioritize and improve this document.” By “document,” he meant a thick tome of facts, issues and proposals regarding different D-11 buildings. It was originally drawn up by district staff, has already changed multiple times after feedback from school principals and is likely to do so again based on public feedback.
“Over 3,500 people have already contributed to this document, and by the time we're done, it's very possible it will be 10,000 people,” he said.
When the input time is over, staff will finalize the document to present to the school board in February, Poore said.
Naleski said she felt there was some frustration among the attendees who did not feel they had time to grasp the extensive information in the document in order to make educated decisions on school closures. At the same time, the subgroup strategy is effective at gathering input, she said.
She strongly urged that, before attending any of the meetings, parents and other citizens who are interested in the future of D-11 schools should read up in advance. As the document is redrafted, the changed text is posted on the D-11 website at www.d11.org/Utilization.
Frustration might also be experienced by individuals whose views are not in the majority in their respective subgroups. Nowhere in the questionnaire are subroups' minority views requested.
Despite the plea for open-minded feedback, people hoping to save certain schools can see they face an uphill battle in the meeting format. For example, one of the subgroup questions asks which school the Bijou Alternative high school should be moved to, and offers, multiple-choice style, the options of Buena Vista, Pike or Whittier - all Westside elementaries. Whichever one is chosen would, by definition, have to shut down as an elementary.
Elsewhere, subgroup participants are asked to rank all the middle schools and elementaries in terms of priority for closure.
For high schools, only two are offered for closure. People are asked to decide between Wasson and Mitchell, whose attendance areas are adjacent to each other on the east side.
The questionnaire also offers subgroups the chance to pick cost-cutting measures other than school closures. These include such possibilities as sharing principals between two small elementaries; decreasing assistant principals in middle and high schools; cutting programs such as music, art and physical education; eliminate all bussing except that which is required by law; or increasing class sizes.
A long set of “assumptions” precedes the proposals in the draft. Among those under “building considerations” is the assumption that “elementary schools below a capacity of 300, projected enrollment under 200 and/or utilization of 70 percent or less will be included as possible candidates for closure/reconfiguration over the next 10 years.” This definition applies, all or in part, to every elementary on the Westside.
Westside Pioneer article