EDITORíS DESK: School closures in retrospect

       I may catch some heat from neighborhood advocates for saying this, but it's probably good that the Board of Education didn't listen to them last year when it was making its fateful decisions on school closures and consolidations. The current school year is nearly over, and none of the lurid predictions of educational disaster have come true. Sure, it hasn't been easy. I know many staffers and parents remain nostalgic, and I still have to rub my eyes when I see, for example, Whittier as a home for high school students or Buena Vista a community center. But it's also true that angry Westsiders did not leave District 11 in droves, nor do kids skip school regularly at the new West Elementary (remember the concern about it being such a big attendance area but not quite big enough for bus transportation?) Buena Vista Montessori seems to be thriving in the former Washington school building and enjoying the geo-thermal climate control (where are the staffers and parents now who initially scoffed at that amenity?) The Pike Elementary building is sadly different with other entities filling its rooms instead of the Title 1 School That Could, but neither has the change plummeted the neighborhood into a gang-ridden ghetto (another prediction).
       Perhaps the most repeated prophecy a year ago was that putting the new West Elementary into the West Middle School building would lead to rampant bullying. That's why it's hilarious to find the only real abuse report this year was, get this, an elementary student kicking a middle-schooler!
       Just think if the school board had delayed its decision a few months, as neighborhood advocates were demanding in the name of "community involvement" last spring. That would have left insufficient time for the closures to happen in 2009-2010 (which, let's face it, some advocates probably hoped would happen), and this would have put District 11 in an even bigger financial hole with this year's budget (lacking the savings of fewer schools to run). In such a desperate scenario, less staff time could have been devoted to sensible closure/consolidation planning. The final verdict about last year? Much as it hurts... the board did the right thing.

- K.J.