Now to find out if the changes work
Westside schools open with altered layout Aug. 18

       District 11's much-discussed experiment with the Westside's public education layout will take physical form when the 2009-10 school year rings in Tuesday, Aug. 18.

Mary Ann Miller, an aide in the Eagles class for gifted students (formerly at Whittier), paints shelves in the classroom as part of the extra effort by staff and volunteers to ready the new West Elementary for the school year.
Westside Pioneer photo

       Gone are the old Buena Vista, Pike, Washington and Whittier elementaries. New on the scene are West Elementary and relocations of Buena Vista's Montessori program and the Bijou School.
       The number of Westside students, between 4,100 and 4,200, are expected to be about the same as last year, although solid enrollment totals won't be known for at least a couple of weeks.
       Construction work has been a constant at four of the Westside school buildings this summer, as D-11 began implementing a “reutilization” strategy worked out last spring calling for larger and fewer facilities that theoretically will bring about long-term budget savings and provide students with a fuller educational experience.
       West Elementary, which has been carved into the western part of West Middle School, will have a ribbon-cutting/open house Monday, Aug. 17 at 5:30 p.m. at the school entrance, 25 N. 20th St.
       Preparations at the school have been close to frantic because of the contractor's schedule slip, which led Principal Terry Martinez to put out a call for volunteers last week to help teachers and administrators get moved in on time.
       Bijou, an alternative high school, did not have quite as extensive a remodel, but it too has had schedule issues. Principal Wayne Hutchison said this week the school was “ looking pretty good,” but he added that “a few significant items are still in the works-mostly HVAC, electrical and technology wiring.”
       Howbert (picking up some of the former Whittier students) and Jackson (some Pike students) are having additions built onto their existing buildings. The new space at each school is due for completion at the start of second semester in January.
       Only Midland Elementary and Coronado High School on the Westside have escaped the extensive sights and sounds of hammering, sawing and concrete trucks this summer.

Dressed for physical labor, West Elementary Principal Terry Martinez (left) talks to a team of moving/cleanup volunteers inside what will be the entrance lobby for the new school, which is being constructed within part of the West Middle School building. The photo is shot through the doorway (and not-yet-glassed window opening) of the main office.
Westside Pioneer photo

       Howbert has a new principal - Gail Smartt-DeRousse, who transferred from Twain Elementary. She replaces David Morris, who the district assigned to Trailblazer Elementary.- while Terry Martinez previously principal at Washington - is West Elementary's first-ever principal, and David Brilliant will be in his second year in charge of the Buena Vista Montessori program.
       Another principal changing schools on the Westside is Manuel Ramsey of Pike. He is taking over at Bristol, from which Steve Ferguson retired.
       As part of the new District 11 school boundaries that the BOE approved last spring, Pike's former attendance area is now divided between Bristol and Jackson.
       In another major boundary change, Holland Park middle school students have been assigned to Holmes instead of West.
       The new West Elementary attendance area takes in many students from Washington, Whittier and the old Buena Vista schools.
       District officials will especially be watching West Elementary. The reutilization plan, as approved by the Board of Education, suggests that the site eventually become a formal K-8 school with one principal. But for this year, at least - because the board first wanted to monitor how kids of those ages interact during a school year - it will be two schools in one building, with Clay Gomez continuing as the West Middle School principal (grades 6-8).
       The moves contain some potentially confusing elements. For example, West Elementary and West Middle School now share the same building. The old Buena Vista had offered traditional and Montessori classes at 17th and Bijou streets, but it has been reincarnated as an all-Montessori school in the former Washington building. Meanwhile, West Center, a City Parks community facility, which had been located inside West Middle School (including part of the space now used by West Elementary), has relocated to the old Buena Vista site. That location still has “Buena Vista” engraved outside, but has no “West Center” signs because City Parks is mulling a new name for the facility.
       One district goal has been for students in closed schools to follow their teachers, as much as possible. This seems to have occurred, on the Westside, according to preliminary staff sheets from some of the schools. The most obvious example is West Elementary, whose staff is almost entirely from the former Washington and Whittier schools.
       And, roughly a third of the former Pike students at Bristol (about 40 of them) will have their old principal (Ramsey) and literary resource teacher, Kathryn Martin.
       Registration has been taking place through the district over the summer, with late sign-ups coming in since the buildings started being staffed regularly last week. It won't be known for a week or two how the enrollments are shaping up in response to the new Westside school configuration.

Westside Pioneer article