Reutilization: Board, staff talk about moving magnets from Westside schools

       The magnet programs that Westside schools have set up over the past several years in efforts to improve enrollments are in jeopardy of being moved to other schools.
       This concept has been mentioned several times in two meetings by the Board of Education this month in response to a consultant's recent study on how District 11 could make more efficient use of its buildings.
       But it is also true that the study process remains in its early stages, with “Phase 1” of a four-phase review process not yet completed and no board action foreseen on any proposals until late February. There have also been indications that any final decision may not be unanimous, with both Bob Null and Charlie Bobbitt especially emphasizing at different times their concerns about moving carelessly into changes.
       Westside magnets that have been mentioned as not being in geographically desirable locations are the International Baccalaureate (IB) at Midland, the Montessori at Buena Vista, the art/music concentration at Bristol and the SAIL program at West.
       Relocating those programs would be on top of study-related proposals already being considered for the Westside, including closing two schools (Whittier and Buena Vista) turning West into a K-8 school, and having Bristol and Washington elementaries overlap attendance areas, with one taking grades K-2 and the other 3-5.
       Implicit in those changes, should they eventually be approved by the board, is the loss or relocation of the Whittier's EAGLES program for gifted students and an uncertain impact on Washington's Core Knowledge focus.
       At the Nov. 12 meeting, after several Buena Vista Elementary parents appealed to the school board not to close BV because of its Montessori program, board member Sandra Mann said she perceived their concern as being more about the program than about the school. “We have the opportunity to continue Montessori or other programs at other locations as we consolidate,” she said.
       No staffer or other board member contradicted this statement.
       Principals at some of the potentially affected Westside schools have been contacted at different times by the Pioneer for comment on the magnet aspect of the study, but have shown reluctance to do so because of the political sensitivity.
       About six years ago, the Westside Task Force had included recommendations that eventually led to the development of Westside magnets, including Buena Vista and Midland. The idea was to boost sagging enrollment at smaller, older Westside schools by developing programs that would attract students (as a magnet would) from other attendance areas or districts. “Montessori was one that came out of the magnet school [effort], so I'm confused why they would want to take it out,” commented Westside business owner Sallie Clark, now a county commissioner, who had helped with that task force.
       The phasing proposal for a reutilization plan was laid out by Deputy Superin-tendent Mike Poore at the Nov. 12 meeting. Board members were scheduled to consider it further at their meeting Nov. 19 - in the context of Poore's proposal to budget $20,000 to bring back a consultant involved in the study who would work with administrators and a specially appointed ”steering committee” on a “draft plan.” Called Phase 1, the draft would be ready by Nov. 30, offering options and alternatives for each facility and program, he said.
       According to Poore, December would encompass Phase 2, during which principals and staff would get to provide input to the plan; followed by public forums and surveys in January and a proposal to the board Feb. 4, and board action foreseen as early as Feb. 25.
       Even then, as board members noted, their decisions might not lead to immediate changes in all cases. For example, Poore said that changing to a K-8 configuration would probably take two to three years. “What you will see in February is options you can choose from,” he told the board. “But every decision you make, starting in February, will limit what you can do [with the next decision].”

Westside Pioneer article