Whittier, Buena Vista closures suggested in latest D-11 scenario
Board to discuss report again at Nov. 12 meeting

       The District 11 Board of Education isn't sure what to make of it all yet, but a wide-ranging consultant's report that suggests closing or consolidating several schools - including a few on the Westside - was unveiled at a board work session Nov. 5.
       More discussion will occur at the regular meeting Wednesday, Nov. 12, Board President Tami Hasling said. There may also be a recommendation from District 11 administrative staff, she added, but promised only that “we won't let this drop.”
       Here are ideas from consultant Shannon Bingham, in response to a board request last August to come up with building utilization options in the face of the district's declining enrollment and increasing costs:
  • Close Buena Vista Elementary and move Bijou School (an alternative high school) into its building.
  • Close Whittier Elementary, and change West Middle School, for which it is now a feeder school, into a K-8 school.
  • Change Trailblazer Elementary, which is losing enrollment and feeds into nearly full Holmes Middle School, into a K-8 school.

           Other possibilities, not part of the Nov. 5 report, could include moving “magnet” programs from one school to another. Such a scenario could affect Midland Elementary, which has developed an accredited International Baccalaureate program over the past seven years. But the only other IB schools in the district are North Middle School and Palmer High. Hasling and board member Sandra Mann even mentioned Midland by name, with Hasling calling it a school that “doesn't feed into anywhere.”
           Geography was a factor in other regards. Bingham, formerly the planner for District 20, said it would be a good stategy to locate magnet-type schools (such as the new-to-the-area K-8) near district boundary lines to help District 11 retain its own students and/or attract those from the neighboring district.
           Academic performance, not just space, was a key part of the proposals, Bingham noted. He did not get into details, but this may have been behind the Buena Vista closure suggestion. Last spring, Pike Elementary had been proposed for closure, with Bijou to move in there. However, as the consultant pointed out, Pike has shown academic improvement as one of a few district schools with Reading First grants. It is also fifth in the state academically among schools with similar percentages of Title 1 students.
           Buena Vista students would go to Washington or Bristol. There was only scant discussion of the five-year-old Buena Vista Montessori magnet effort.
           A Whittier closure would be based on its small size (under 180 students), while West is losing students every year, Bingham said.
           He did not describe the options as “recommendations” and stressed that no changes should be made without involving the community at the “grassroots level.” He said the goal was to provide options as requested (under a board-approved $124,000 district consulting contract last August) and that if the board disliked the closures/consolidation route, he and his consulting team could look at efficient ways to continue operating the small schools (such as those on the Westside), which are generally more expensive on a per-student basis to operate than big schools.
           No board member sounded ready to immediately accept any or all the consultant ideas. Numerous questions were asked, including a request for assurance that the proposals actually would save the district money and improve academic performance.
           Bingham said he could not provide that. For instance, the new K-8 schools have proven popular elsewhere and students have shown some academic strides, but the only way to see how it would work in District 11 would be to try it out and compare test scores.
           Board member Bob Null was not eager to go that route and said that closing schools is “my last choice.”

    Westside Pioneer article