Uprooted Westside school, CHS principal key to plans forming for new Wasson

       With the end of the 2012-13 school year, the Westside is losing a school and a principal to the new Roy J. Wasson Academic Campus.
       The school is the Bijou School, an alternative for grades 9-12 since 1995. It was located on the Westside a dozen years, the last four at the old Whittier school site. It's joining a grouping of alternative educational schools/programs at District 11's former Wasson High site.

As part of the festivities for the Bijou School's final Westside luau May 23, guitarist Christian Gutierrez (far left) played music and gave basic instruction to students in Hawaiian dancing. Luau barbecues have been a school tradition for many years.
Westside Pioneer photo

       The principal is David Engstrom, leader of Coronado High since 2010. The district assigned him in April to take over the new Wasson this fall.
       In that role, he will be working with the heads of the alternative schools/ programs, including Kathryn Presnal, who has been principal of Bijou since 2010.
       In separate interviews, both Engstrom and Presnal expressed optimism for what the new Wasson could become but also noted that it's a “work in progress,” as Presnal put it.
       Meetings over the summer will shape the initial plan. Engstrom described the new school as “a campus of opportunities that hasn't existed before in El Paso County. It may evolve over the first year as we survey the community and see what their needs are. We'll morph and evolve as we move along.”

Parent Michelle Cohn (left) and building manager Mary Freese were part of the serving team at the Bijou School's luau May 23. People ate inside the gym because of rainy weather. It was the last day for Bijou at the old Whittier site.
Westside Pioneer photo

       As for Coronado, where he had first been an assistant principal for five years and had hoped to remain as principal for years to come, he admitted some sadness. “I jumped in with both feet,” he said “I thought this was what it was going to be. But now that I'm at Wasson, I will jump into that with both feet.”
       In addition, he noted, he won't be completely gone from Coronado. His son, Carver, will be starting his freshman year at the Westside high school in the fall. “I won't be principal, but I will be a Coronado parent,” Engstrom said, “and I'll see you at school events.”
       Presnal said that Bijou students and staff were not initially happy about losing their own campus. “The initial reaction was shock,” she said. “But over time we tried to frame it in a more positive way and found a lot of the kids were excited about the opportunities.”
       For example, Bijou alone couldn't provide such Wasson offerings as auto-repair classes, a full-sized gym, an auditorium, the Pro-start (cooking skills) program, digital high school, early colleges (college credit in high school), night school, day care and the ACE program that gives credits for students with jobs.
       For her own part, she sees the chance to compare educational notes with Engstrom and the administrators of the other schools and programs at Wasson. “We'll be serving similar sorts of kids,” she said.
       Presnal can't predict how many of the current Bijou students (enrollment usually hovers around 120 a year) will stay with the school. While it has always been a district-wide school of choice, appealing particularly to students who dislike the rules and rigor of traditional schools, its geographical proximity can't be denied. About 60 percent of the students live west of I-25, she said.
       Taking Bijou's place at Whittier will be the new Mountain Song charter school for grades K-6, whose lease with District 11 starts July 1.

Westside Pioneer article