Bijou School’s founder dreads impact if D-11 relocation plan happens
A conceptual plan that would relocate the Bijou School into a new facility with other alternative schools/programs appears to be gaining traction with District 11 leaders.
But Wayne Hutchison, who founded the facility in 1995 and served as its principal until his retirement in 2010, has concerns about Bijou's future outside the type of “small, intimate campus” it's had for years on the Westside.
Under the D-11 plan, recommended by Superintendent Nick Gledich at the Jan. 9 Board of Education work session, Wasson High would close, with the campus “repurposed” for what's being called an “early college, career and alternative education center.”
As a side effect of D-11 reducing to four its number of traditional high schools, the Westside's Coronado High could expect an enrollment hike of about 300 to more than 1,600 students, D-11 chief financial officer Glenn Gustafson estimated in response to a question from the Westside Pioneer. This would result if the district extends Coronado's attendance area east across I-25 in the north part of the district.
The Board of Education is scheduled to consider the early-college plan again at its Jan. 23 regular meeting, as part of the “optimization of utilization” effort this winter to make D-11 teaching more efficient and effective. Another Gledich recommendation is to close two under-utilized elementary schools east of I-25 (Bates and Lincoln), with an unknown portion of those students going into the Jackson Elementary attendance area.
Board members showed eager interest in the early-college idea at the work session. It was not part of the original 12 considerations unveiled in November and at public meetings in December; however, Gledich and other district officials said then that they were analyzing ideas as they went and listening to suggestions from the meetings. According to Devra Ashby of D-11, the early-college idea actually came from a student.
Under the concept, Bijou (an alternative school for grades 9-12) would be joined at Wasson by the Tesla School (another alternative high school, located on the east side) and Night School; and the Digital, Achieve K-12, Homebound and Home School Adult and Family Education and Career Pathway programs (including Auto, Hospitality, Medical, and ProStart). The idea is to have flexibility, with students being able in certain cases to also attend regular high schools (allowing participation in such activities as gym and band).
In his critique, Hutchison said he thinks the early-college plan (modeled in part after the state-chartered Early Colleges charter high school in Colorado Technical University) is a good one. Enterprising students could even earn a two-year college degree while in high school. However, he pointed out that such a facility would unavoidably be large, with Bijou just a part of the mix, and the size could alienate many Bijou students who now “flee the impersonality of large high schools” for the Westside school, which has only about 120 students.
At the very least, Hutchison said he'd like the district to delay the Bijou move for a year, to give students and families more time to adjust.
Current Bijou Principal Kathryn Presnal said she will support what the board decides. “Anytime anything changes, there is always going to be a group of individuals that don't want to do the new thing,” she said. “But I think that in tough times like these, when the money's tight, the district is trying to decide what's best for all the kids.”
Either Bijou or Tesla (each has had different names in the past) has operated on the Westside since the early 1970s. Bijou has been at the former Whittier School site, 2904 W. Kiowa St., since 2009.
Hutchison said Bijou serves a purpose by providing an alternative not just for D-11 - with Westsiders comprising most of the attendees - but also for the nearby Woodland, Manitou and Cheyenne school districts. He said none of these has an alternative high school of their own. Moving Bijou to the east side would lose that geographical advantage, he believes.
Asked about this issue, Devra Ashby of D-11 said statistics show that Bijou “pulls its students from everywhere.” Regarding access, Wasson is “on a main bus line,” which should help with accessibility, she said; also, the district is looking at busing students to the new Wasson from pickup points at the remaining four traditional high schools.
As for the individual- identity concern, Ashby said the district “is still roughing out the details [of the early-college plan]. That conversation is on the table. We're thinking about that right now. We know those students [at Bijou] identify with their school.”
Westside Pioneer article