The ax hit its mark on the night of Feb. 25, sending many parents and activists home in tears, some hollering one last jab at their adversaries on the Colorado Springs School District 11 Board of Education as they headed for the door.
Eight schools will close next year in a district that has long been deeply divided over school closures. But with the pruning done, it remains to be seen whether the district will flourish. From the board to the administration to the classroom, the future of D-11 is uncertain.
With three seats up for grabs in the November election, feelings over school closures simmering and at least two board members president Tami Hasling and John Gudvangen saying they won't run for re-election, the board soon will see changes.
"I'm sure there's going to be people who come out of the woodwork and run on school closures," says Chyrese Exline, a 2007 candidate who's strongly considering another run.
Sam Dunlap doesn't even want to wait that long. Dunlap, who spent more than 30 years as a D-11 community liaison before retiring earlier this decade, is now working with other citizens to start a petition calling for the recall of school board members. Dunlap says his petition will focus on Jan Tanner and John Gudvangen, but he hears people may be interested in recalling others, too. To Dunlap, the school closures just don't seem fair.
"It appears to me that the majority of schools have been closed on the south end of town, which doesn't leave those families in that neighborhood anything at all," he says.
Many parents eyed the actions of the board closely as the decisions to close schools were made. Charlie Bobbitt received many cheers as he proposed motion after motion that would have kept schools open. The motions were defeated. Bob Null and Gudvangen made several efforts to keep certain schools open. In contrast, Hasling and Tanner did not support any deviation from the written plan for closures, except for minor changes to the plan for Wasson High School.
But while Bobbitt got most of the back-slapping the night of the meeting, both Hasling and Tanner say there's plenty of support for their point of view, too.
"I think we've got plenty of time, plenty of months, to see how this will play with the community," Tanner says.
Hasling and Gudvangen say they won't run again because they want to spend more time with family. Sandra Mann did not respond to voice messages asking about her future plans.
D-11 administration is facing a slew of challenges, from implementing the school closure plan, to trimming its staff, to welcoming a new superintendent. Nicholas Gledich, coming to the Springs from Florida, will take the reins before the next school year begins. Hasling and others on the board say they were impressed with Gledich's broad knowledge of both administration and the classroom.
"He's like a computer," Hasling says. "He gets it."
Gledich is expected to work closely with deputy superintendent Michael Poore, one of the people he just beat out for the job. Poore was the main orchestrator of the plan to close schools and is also the person responsible for putting together a plan to transform Emerson Middle School, which failed as a charter, into a space-age district school by August. Meanwhile, administrative staff will also be scrambling to fill now-empty school buildings and to decide whether kindergarten-through-eighth-grade schools are really a good idea.
For their part, parents will navigate some confusion next school year. Boundaries are being rewritten in the district, which means children may be assigned to a different home school. If parents don't like the new school, they'll need to "choice" their kids into a different school, or even a different district. Children in some schools may find themselves dodging construction projects or learning in overcrowded classrooms as schools are expanded or remodeled.
The board and administration are hoping that parents will ride out these bumpy spots, and not lead an exodus to other districts and charter schools (especially since at least two charters will now be conveniently located in old school buildings).
But that may be a high hope. Some frustrated parents, like Marie Lopez, say they couldn't change the board's mind about closing schools, but they can make a decision to move their children. And Lopez just might.
"I'm really angry," she says.
The final bell
On Wednesday, Feb. 25, the District 11 board decided to close Buena Vista, Whittier, Ivywild, Pike, Adams, Longfellow and Jefferson elementary schools, as well as Irving Middle School, before the next school year. Washington Elementary will become a Montessori magnet school, Emerson Middle School will be home to a new program offered by the Space Foundation, and West Middle School will house an elementary school and a middle school. A decision on the future of Wasson High School was delayed until March 11, after the board turned down a seemingly endless list of scenarios for the school.