D-11 board liking staff ideas for Westside

       Working late into the night Feb. 11, the District 11 Board of Education began making tentative straw-poll choices on closures and other student-movement actions that were generally in agreement with staff recommendations.

Working late into the night Feb. 11, the District 11 Board of Education began making tentative straw-poll choices on closures and other student-movement actions that were generally in agreement with staff recommendations.
Westside Pioneer photo

       These choices included saying OK to such major Westside changes as closing the current schools at Whittier, Washington and Buena Vista and moving their students (only the non-Montessori in BV's case) to a new configuration at West; relocating the Bijou Alternative high school to the Whittier building; and putting BV's Montessori program at Washington.
       An official vote is not scheduled to occur until Feb. 25.
       The school board heard several requests from citizens to delay a vote (so as to consider the issues more carefully) during the two-hour public hearing that preceded the item-by-item straw-poll effort.
       Welling Clark, president of the Organization of Westside Neighbors (OWN) and member of the steering committee that worked with staff on its recommendations, charged that the plan had been developed without sufficient involvement of the public in general and parents in particular. “The parents drive the whole issue,” he said.
       In all, 39 people took advantage of the three-minute-maximum opportunity to tell the board their views. With another 61 still left of those who had signed up to speak, the board will continue the public hearing Wednesday, Feb. 18 at 7 p.m. The location will again be Coronado High School's auditorium (a late change from Tesla, the normal board meeting place).
       Elaine Naleski, D-11 spokesperson, said that only those who had signed up for Feb. 11 will be allowed to speak at the Feb. 18 session.
       The above-noted Westside changes - including Pike Elementary closing and its students going to Bristol and Jackson schools - are slated to take effect in the coming school year, starting August 2009.
       West would start out as two separate schools (K-5 and 6-8), Deputy Super-intendent Mike Poore clarified for the board. This would give parents and staff a year to evaluate how things were working out. Depending on the results, West could become a true K-8 as recommended (with its middle school a western-district magnet for the SAIL gifted-student program) and a structured mixing of the grades at times. But if safety for the younger children was an issue (as some speakers predicted during the public hearing) the district might want to make it a K-5 or K-6, he said.
       Bijou School, currently in the former Bristol School on North Walnut Street, had once been recommended to relocate to Pike. Moving to Whittier instead was proposed by district administrators as well as the Bijou staff, Naleski said. The Whittier site is appealing, she elaborated because it would be near the southwest edge of the district and as such could appeal to students/families in neighboring districts (such as Manitou) that don't have alternative high schools.
       Between the Feb. 4 work session, when the board first saw the recommendations, and the Feb. 11 board meeting, district staffers have been organizing “informational meetings” at different schools that would be affected by the changes.
       So far, these have included Whittier, Washington, Buena Vista, Pike and West. Each had strong parent and staff turnouts, with pointed questions about the rationale for the changes.
       Some staff and parents were frustrated because many details about the moves were not known. But staff responded that they had not yet worked out all the detail because it would make no sense to do so until the board decided which direction to go.
       District 11 has toyed with school closures in the past to save money, but is facing a multi-million-dollar financial crunch now, Poore said.

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