D-11 board drops the hammer
Vote to close 4 Westside elementaries by August

       Shrugging aside citizen appeals for greater public review, the District 11 Board of Education followed the schedule it had set for itself last fall - voting for major changes in its schools Feb. 25.

Rachel Ordille (left) and Bailey Napier of Whittier defend Alex Grimm of Howbert Feb. 19 in one of the last basketball games of this winter's educational league in which seven Westside elementary schools got to play each other. The future of the league next year is unknown, with the Board of Education having voted Feb. 25 to close four of those schools (Whittier, Buena Vista, Pike and Washington) by Aug. 1.
Westside Pioneer photo

       The hammer will fall hardest on the Westside, where longtime neighborhood elementary schools Pike, Buena Vista, Washington and Whittier will close after this school year.
       Students from the latter three schools will be in the attendance area of a new, larger elementary that will be created - after as-yet-undefined remodeling work - at West Middle School. The exception will be Buena Vista's Montessori students, who will have the option of following the program - the only public-school Montessori in the area - to the Washington building.
       The middle school will remain at West, at least in 2009-10, but a study exploring the possibility of making West into an integrated preschool through eighth grade is due before the board by Jan. 15 of next year.
       The other major move on the Westside is the Bijou Alternative high school relocating to Whittier (it's currently in the old Bristol school, which has not received a major renovation for many years).
       Depending on a boundary study that is to go before the board by March 15, Pike students will be transported to Jackson, Bristol and possibly also to Howbert.
       Preliminary plans show about two-thirds of Pike's roughly 130 students going to Jackson; in anticipation, an addition for four classrooms is to be built at Jackson by second semester of the 2009-10 school year.
       All of the above changes were part of nine school board votes, encompassing a total of 40 issues related to closures, moves, program changes and plans.
       Led by President Tami Hasling, board members did not spend much time elaborating on their actions, but at different junctures made it clear they are open to ways to help the changes go smoothly. D-11 Deputy Superintendent Mike Poore has spearheaded the effort to pull together a reutilization plan, following up on consultants' recommendations with a month of staff meetings in December, six public meetings in January and recommendations to the board Feb. 5. The meeting Feb. 25 was its fourth since then.
       Montessori will not only will be going to a new school but (because it's a “magnet” program) will have no actual attendance area. Board member Tom Strand said that “full community involvement” would be needed. “This is so important to Westsiders and the people living around Washington,” he added, instructing district staff to “partner up with the Montessori program to attract as many people as you possibly can.”
       Board member Charles Bobbitt offered several amendments, looking for ways to soften the blow (including an attempt to put off the Pike closure for a year) but never could get enough votes. The majority appeared determined to move forward on a plan that they know will cause some pain but which, through fewer, larger schools reputedly offering more educational opportunities, they believe will be more effective. “We serve the needs of the 28,000 students across our system,” board member John Gudvangen commented at one point. “It is about fairness, and so that every school offers the best resources. That's why we're ready to make the hard decisions tonight.”
       Before the decision-making, several citizens spoke, all pounding the theme that the board was moving forward recklessly and that the public had not been involved enough. Two Westide elected officials, Sallie Clark and Jerry Heimlicher, made their second appearances before the board. Both said they were concerned because several of the closed schools were in their districts. Noting that the board was also about to hire a new superintendent, Clark warned the board, “Don't leave the new superintendent with a black mark before he even comes to town.”
       Heimlicher said he wasn't trying to tell the board what schools to close, but “you're going have a big problem moving that many programs.”
       Dave Munger, president of the Council of Neighbors and Organizations (CONO), presented a petition with 544 signatures asking for “more meaningful” public involvement.

Westside Pioneer article