D-11 board votes for closures; Bijou to move, Coronado and Jackson to have more students

       Uncowed by local baseball great Goose Gossage's allegations and unswayed by fellow board member Bob Null's concerns, the District 11 Board of Education voted 6-1 Feb. 6 on a “utilization” plan highlighted by the closure of Wasson High.
       For the Westside, the major impacts (taking effect in fall 2013) will be:
  • The relocation of the Bijou School to the Wasson site, to be joined by several other alternate programs, including a new “early colleges” offering.
  • More students at Coronado High, as well as at the other three remaining full-service high schools in the district. Each will receive a portion of Wasson's 900 students, with the exact numbers unspecified until the board votes on boundary changes. This is expected to happen in March.
  • More students at Jackson Elementary (also at Edison, Audubon and Fremont elementaries), as a result of closing Bates and Lincoln. Board votes on new elementary school boundaries will also be required.
           Board member Al Loma, noting that his son graduated from Wasson, agreed that the closure decision was “heart-wrenching,” but pointed to its upside. To people who implied that board members do not care about the less affluent, he noted that through early colleges, “the poor will have the opportunity to get a two-year degree” while they're still in high school. As for the plan involving Bijou, he noted that the alternative school may no longer have the comfort of its own small-campus setting, but with all the other programs nearby its students will be exposed to a wider array of choices. A student might be inspired to become a chef or a mechanic, for example, he said. “The possibilities are endless.”
           According to district information, the Wasson site will provide a “single location for D-11 alternative programs: Tesla, Bijou, Night School, Digital, Achieve K-12, Homebound and Home School, Adult and Family Education and Career Pathway programs (including auto, hospitality, medical and ProStart).”
           Nora Brown, who had led the creation of the PTA at Coronado before being elected to the board, pointed to “challenging economic times” that have forced the district to seek more building-use efficiency.
           Null, who had also opposed the utilization plan three years ago that closed three long-time Westside elementaries, alleged that the board had been unfair with Wasson by cutting short a “school of innovation” program that had only started three years ago.
           He was also worried that Wasson's ROTC program would not find a new home in any of the other high schools. But the principals of Doherty and Palmer high schools, who were both at the meeting, said they had room.
           The district's main closure arguments have been that Wasson's buildings are barely half used, large numbers of students in its attendance area “choice” elsewhere and its academic performance is poor.
           Gossage, a Wasson alumnus, was one of 14 speakers from the public, who were each limited to three minutes (although Gossage continued speaking for awhile despite Board President Jan Tanner advising him repeatedly about the time).
           The audience area was standing room only, and, judging by the applause, full of Wasson supporters. Several of the speakers were Wasson staffers who defended their school and made sharply critical statements about the closure plan. But Gossage went even further, charging school officials with intentional wrongdoing (including their financial calculations), calling for an investigation and threatening a lawsuit.
           In response, Loma told the Hall of Fame pitcher he had been a fan during his Major League days and “you deserve to be in the Hall,” but then added, “your facts need to be reassessed.”
           Brian Mandabach, a Bijou English teacher, asked that his school be allowed to stay where it is (in the former Whittier Elementary building at 2904 W. Kiowa St.) The place is a refuge for about 120 students a year who choose it over big schools, and the new program combination at the Wasson site would be like a big school, he advised.
           As for the Whittier building's future, it is to be “repurposed,” according to district information, which could mean selling it, putting another school there or finding some new use for it.
           Leading up to the board action Feb. 6 were meetings starting in August by a committee of community members and staff that worked up a list of options for public consideration. Citizens were allowed to comment on these at a series of staff-hosted public meetings in December, after which D-11 Superintendent Nick Gledich recommended new and revised options in January.
           The school closures will provide recurring savings to the school district along with educational efficiencies, officials have said.
           The five high schools now have an average of 71 percent utilization; with four, this will increase to 85 percent, district estimates show. The elementaries will rise from 80 to 84 percent.
           In a statement released after the meeting, Gledich said the following: “In light of the vote this evening, I know the coming months may be filled with many questions from our D-11 families as to what happens next. I have directed all district staff to work closely together over the next few months to communicate needs and ideas, ensuring a smooth transition for all impacted students and families. Through diligent attention to details, sensitivity to those impacted by changes and effort to prepare students for a world yet to be imagined, I know District 11 will become even stronger and continue to provide the highest quality education to all students.”

    Westside Pioneer article