D-11 gives up quickly on idea for all-Westside K-6

       A School District 11 trial balloon - closing West Middle School, adding sixth grade to eight elementaries west of I-25 and making Holmes Middle School grades 7-8 only - did not stay in the air very long.
       After a special informational meeting for parents at West Elementary April 7 revealed opposition to the idea, Superintendent Nick Gledich decided not to pursue it, explained Jeanice Swift, the district's executive director for K-12 schools.
       Swift, as well as Coronado High Principal David Engstrom and Holmes Principal Rob Utter, answered questions at a follow-up public meeting April 12 at Holmes Middle School.
       The intent of the suggested Westside changes was to find savings in a tight District 11 budget. The eight elementaries under consideration for adding 6th grade were Bristol, Buena Vista, Chipeta, Howbert, Jackson, Midland, Trailblazer and West, because they have space that would allow sixth grade to be added. At Holmes, as a result of not having sixth-graders but having all the Westside's seventh- and eighth-graders, there would have been “slightly fewer students, improving utilization,” a district flyer to parents suggested.
       Swift said about 40 parents attended the April 7 meeting. Although it was not a big turnout, those present sent a strong message of opposition, she said.
       Engstrom said he too had a concern, that an all-K-6 Westside might backfire and end up with parents sending their students to another district. He said he thought it was more beneficial to offer parents choices.
       The way it is now, Trailblazer is offering sixth grade (starting this year) and Buena Vista Elementary is considering adding that grade to match its Montessori format more closely.
       Educational leaders have different views on whether it's more beneficial to keep sixth-graders in elementary or to put them into a middle school. The roughly 10 parents at the April 13 meeting seemed to be in consensus that adapting can be tough at first, but sixth-graders generally do so quickly. Utter said that probably the hardest moment for such kids is leaving school after the first day and seeing 12 school buses and not knowing which is theirs.
       The Westside would not be entirely unscathed by the district's budget-balancing for fiscal year 2011-12. Gledich has recommended saving $305,000 by eliminating about six duplicate positions in the West Middle School/West Elementary building after this year.
       The individual employees would probably not get laid off, but be reassigned elsewhere in the district to fill positions vacated by natural attrition, Swift said. The positions were duplicated when West Elementary was created inside the West Middle School building in fall 2009; however, district officials decided not to take action on the issue until after a transition period to let the elementary get settled in, Swift said.

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