Four Colorado Springs elementary schools could be slated for closure soon. Not because they're bad schools, but because they're small.
District 20's Pine Valley Elementary, District 12's Cañon Elementary, and District 11's Longfellow and Pike elementary schools all boast average or high student scores on the Colorado Student Assessment Program test. But with budgets slim, these schools face the ax because they're physically small or have low enrollment, and the kids they serve can easily be swallowed by a larger school.
Larger schools are better able to offer a range of classes, like art and music, and require fewer administrators than multiple small schools.
"We just have to look for ways to help people spend their money as efficiently and as effectively as we can," says D-11 board vice president Tom Strand.
That's not to say he relishes closures. Neither do many parents, advocates and educators who tend to focus on the sense of community a neighborhood school provides, and the sense of place it gives children.
"Closing a school for any school district should always be the course of last resort," Cañon parent Andrew Dwyer says.
Dwyer heads up VisionD12, a parents' group advocating against closing district schools. He says he understands the board is facing declining enrollment and tight budgets; he suggests a remedy of recruiting more out-of-district kids and therefore more state dollars. He's even attracted the assistance of Welling Clark, who helped save several D-11 schools about five years ago. Clark helped crunch numbers and put together an alternative plan.
The truth is, Dwyer's three children wouldn't go to a lesser school if Cañon closed, since higher-performing Broadmoor Elementary would welcome them. (And no matter what, Cañon will likely stay open for several years.) But Dwyer says he likes this school.
For two years, Dwyer's eldest, now a sixth-grader, has been involved in "Creek Club." The kids go to the back of the school, where Cheyenne Creek flows, and learn about natural resources, maintaining clean drinking water, lots of things. His son loves it.
Sharon Bjorkman's formed a friendly relationship with her younger son's kindergarten teacher, and watched as her third-grader finally hit his stride.
A 2002 study by the National Trust for Historic Preservation cites a national trend toward mega-schools on the edge of cities, and finds that a lot of affected neighborhoods end up feeling disconnected. The kids, meanwhile, can feel anonymous in larger buildings.
"There is a line that, once you go over that size, it makes it much more difficult for kids to feel like they're part of the school," says Dr. Ann Elrod, president of the D-20 board, which has already agreed to close Pine Valley. "But at the same time, you have to have enough kids to make sure you have the programs."
That line's normally at about 300 to 400 in an elementary school, 500 in a middle school, and 1,500 in a high school. In D-20, Elrod says, some larger schools have tried to feel smaller by grouping kids together year after year.
D-11 board member Jan Tanner says her district will make a decision soon on its two proposed closures. She's not sure which way she'll vote, and she expects an emotional struggle.
D-12 also has an upcoming meeting. Calls to D-12 board members and the superintendent were not returned.
D-12 Blue Ribbon Panel recommendation discussion
Cheyenne Mountain Junior High School, 1200 W. Cheyenne Road
Monday, April 21, 6:30 p.m.
For more info: 475-6100