Shakes: Westside schools hold their futures in their own hands

     Like the Ghost of Christmas Future showing Scrooge his tombstone, closures of three Westside schools is a possible outcome in the 10-year plan that was approved by the District 11 School Board April 14… but not necessarily what has to be.
     Board President Sandy Shakes said before the meeting that the schools have the opportunity to improve the shortfalls identified in the Long Range School Use (LRSUS) Task Force's findings which had led to the plan.
     “That's where it rests, with the schools,” Shakes told the Westside Pioneer. “They can wring their hands or… they can pull it together.”
     The three targeted Westside schools are Whittier, Pike and Ivywild. They are among six schools in the district with low enrollments that ought to be consolidated into other schools, according to LRSUS' School Utilization Subcommittee.
     The rationale was that with far fewer kids than they were built for, those schools' buildings are financial burdens to the district. And, especially on the Westside where schools are closer together, the belief is that students could be “consolidated” into nearby schools: Pike to Jackson and Washington, Whittier to Howbert and Buena Vista, and Ivywild to Hunt and Washington (grades K-5) and West (grades 6-8).
     Shakes pointed to Pike Elementary as an example of a school that is showing a desire to become self-sufficient, offering adult classes in the evening and getting involved in other ways with its neighboring community. In addition, a large town-home development is proposed nearby that could bring in scores of new students.
     Other Westside schools, such as Midland (International Baccalaure-ate) and Buena Vista (Montessori), have brought in “magnet” programs with the help of parents.
     Although LRSUS did not mention it, Shakes agreed that academic performance is a factor when considering school closures. This was also discussed at the District 11 work session April 7. Board member Craig Cox, alluding to the common mantra that smaller classes are better, said that in various parts of the district “we have classrooms with 32 students who are doing great and classrooms with 14 who are not doing great.”
     Like Shakes, he called for a “site-based” approach that gives each school a chance to make itself cost-effective. No exact deadlines have been set.
     Shakes, who grew up on the Westside, knows there can be personal issues dampening parental involvement, especially in lower-income schools such as on the Westside.
     “There are some heart-rending situations where some of these kids come from,” she said.
     Parents who are concerned should use their schools as a “rallying point,” she said. “The school can help the parents figure out what they can do.”
     In all, Shakes sees the scenario as a chance for people to bring change from the “bottom up,” instead of being forced to accept a “top-down” decision from the school board.
     “To me, this is not a dismal picture,” she said. “It's kind of inspiring and exciting - what can we do? When we have actual funding that follows the schools, it empowers the people in each building to make decisions.”
     And maybe get rid of a future tombstone.

Westside Pioneer article