D-11 plan would close Pike, relocate Bijou School
Public hearing April 23; Board of Education to vote on plan May 7
A year after its third-graders celebrated a 100 percent score in reading, Pike Elementary was 100 percent bummed this week.
The reason? The school is proposed for closure, effective in 2008-09. District 11 Superintendent Terry Bishop gave a presentation at the April 9 Board of Education meeting, proposing that the Bijou alternative high school, now in cramped and aging quarters at 730 N. Walnut St., relocate to the site at 2510 N. Chestnut St. Pike's students (about 125 in grades K-5) would be dispersed to the nearest Westside elementaries - mostly Jackson and Bristol, with a few going to Howbert.
The board took no action April 9, and will hold a public hearing (also no action planned) at the board meeting Wednesday, April 23, starting at 6:30 p.m. at the District 11 office building, 1115 N. El Paso St. The board will vote on the matter at the board meeting Wednesday, May 7, according to Elaine Naleski, District 11 community relations director.
In the meantime, parent supporters rallying against the closure have scheduled a meeting at the school Thursday, April 17 at 6 p.m. "If we lose it, we lose the quality of life in the neighborhood," said Carol Gravenstein, a member of Pike's Building Accountability Advisory Committee.
But Elaine Naleski, District 11 community relations director, said that D-11 administrators disagree with Gravenstein's concern that property values would drop as a result of losing the neighborhood school and having an alternative school in its place.
Another neighborhood meeting at the school, this one called by district administrators, will be Monday, April 28, also at 6 p.m. There, they will attempt to sway people to the view, as stated in Bishop's "Position Paper on Reutilization of Schools," that "a combination of cost savings and better educational programs for both the elementary students and the Bijou students makes this recommendation worth consideration by the Board of Education."
Five-year Pike Principal Manuel Ramsey, said that while he understands staff reasons for closing his school, "we've worked hard, and we're proud of what we've done."
He described the attitude at Pike as "kind of somber right now." Still, he and his staff hold out hope that the school will be saved. By mutual agreement, none of them has put their names out yet for open positions next year at other schools. "We're trying to stick together and see what happens," Ramsey said. At the same time, he understands people can only stay in limbo so long. "We've asked the district to make a decision as quickly as possible," he explained.
In any case, the district has said it will provide jobs for the Pike staffers (31 in all, including part-time individuals). Where possible, according to Shirley Stevens, the administrator who oversees Pike, the district would like the school's teachers to be hired at the same schools Pike students are going to, and even be their teachers there.
The overall savings in administrative and overhead costs from closing Pike would be just under $392,000, states the Position Paper, wich was released at the April 9 board meeting.
At times in the past, Westside schools have been mentioned for closure, but the reasons have been underuse of the buildings or poor academics. Neither applies to Pike. The school is at full enrollment and, while it has not excelled academically in all areas, it has shown some key improvements. These include the third-graders' 100 percent proficiency score in the 2007 Colorado Student Assessment Program (CSAP) reading test and an increase in reading benchmarks, with help from its Reading First program, from 40 percent profiency three years ago to about 80 percent now, Ramsey said.
The main problem for Pike, according to Bishop's Position Paper, is its size. It has a 175-student capacity, but with 50 of those slots now being used for preschool, it has the smallest K-5 enrollment in the district.
"Pike has only one teacher per grade level and because of the small number of students has limited support staff for various programs," the document states. This can be solved, it continues, by "combining small schools and having a larger number of students that generate more support in the areas of art, music, physical education, tutoring, academic intervention, and other support. In this case, most of the students will be within two miles of the receiving school, which is normally considered a neighborhood distance."
Position Paper statistics show that there's room at Jackson (which would take 65 of the current Pike students) and Bristol (36) - although Jackson would only manage it through continued use of its portable classrooms, and Bristol Principal Steve Ferguson estimated his class sizes would go up an average of five students or more.
The remaining four current Pike students would go to Howbert, the document states.
Ferguson and Jackson Principal Anne Dancy said they will welcome the new students, should Pike close and the dispersal plan take effect. Ferguson told the story of how a similar strategy nearly occurred about 10 years ago, when the Bristol mural was in the planning stages. "I told him I wanted to put the Pike Pirate [its logo] in the mural," Ferguson said. The mural is no longer an option, having been finished in 2000, but Ferguson will still "do everything I can to make them feel comfortable at Bristol… We will just have to hustle around and make things happen."
The Bijou School, an all-choice option for district students who prefer it to regular high school, has 135 students.There would be ample room for them at Pike because the preschool contingent would also be relocated (locations not yet determined).
Principal Wayne Hutchison said he is pleased at the prospect, though sorry if it turns out to be Pike, where family members of his have attended during its 52-year history.
A key reason the district wants to relocate Bijou is that otherwise it would have to spend at least $650,000 in upgrades at the current facility, consisting of one aging building and four portable classrooms.
For Hutchison, the greatest benefit of moving to the new location "would just be space," he said. "We're bursting at the seams. Our joke is that we have to schedule assemblies in the fall and spring because the only place to congregate everyone is outside."
He hopes to win over the neighborhood by doing cleanups and inviting residents to school barbecues. He also pointed out that Bijou actually has fewer disciplinary problems than many schools. "We're hoping they'll see that while they're losing one school, they're gaining another," he said.
But, for now at least, Pike Elementary continues to function. And, amid all the uncertainty, Principal Ramsey is trying to keep his perspective. "We still have six weeks to educate kids [in the current school year]," he said. "That's what we're going to work on."
Westside Pioneer article